Hours after surrendering to police, actor Jussie Smollett appeared in court for the first time Thursday to face claims that he filed a false police report. A judge set the 36-year-old actor’s bond at $100,000 and ordered him to surrender his passport and submit to pre-trial monitoring, according to CBS Chicago’s Charlie De Mar, who says that Smollett is scheduled to return to court in March.
Smollett famously claimed last month to be the victim of a hate crime. Two men hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him and beat him outside of a Subway restaurant in the early hours of Jan. 29, the actor alleged. Following a myriad of unexpected twists and turns in the case, police have concluded that they believe Smollett orchestrated not only the “bogus” attack, but the threatening letter Smollett received that preceded it, leading prosecutors to charge him with filing a false police report, police explained during a press conference hours after Smollett’s arrest.
Prosecutors read text messages during Smollett’s court appearance suggesting that the actor gave the two men who staged the attack against him $100 to buy supplies, which included ski masks and a red hat, CNN reports. Prosecutors allege that Smollett also told the men what to say during the 45-second pseudo assault, including the comment, “This is MAGA country,” according to the outlet.
CNN correspondent Nick Watt reports that prosecutors claim Smollett took the men to the location where he wanted the attack to occur and showed them the camera that would capture it. He also allegedly told the brothers — one of whom prosecutors say was Smollett’s drug supplier — to throw gasoline on him, but they later decided on bleach instead, Watt said. The noose was also allegedly Smollett’s idea, a detail that the judge found particularly offensive, according to Watt.
Smollett was taken into custody less than one week after police arrested, and then released, two brothers in relation to the case. The two men, Nigerian brothers who were reportedly associates of Smollett’s and even worked with him on “Empire,” reportedly told authorities that the actor paid them to stage the attack (and they allegedly even rehearsed it first).
Smollett faces up to three years in prison if convicted. In the meantime, his future with “Empire” seems uncertain, with 20th Century Fox tweeting Thursday that the network is “considering our options.”
The “Empire” actor initially pointed to racism and homophobia as the reason he was targeted, but police said on Thursday that his story was “bogus” and merely a ploy to build his social standing. Authorities believe money was the driving force behind the scheme. The actor allegedly first “attempted to gain attention by sending a false letter that relied on racial, homophobic and political language,” and then, “when that didn’t work,” he paid two men $3,500 to fake the attack and “drag Chicago’s reputation through the mud in the process,” Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson said.
He allegedly did it all because he was “dissatisfied with his salary” on the show “Empire,” which is filmed in Chicago.
News that Smollett had allegedly been attacked drew concern and support from many, including celebs like talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and Sen. Kamala Harris. President Donald Trump, who previously called the alleged attack against Smollett “horrible,” took to Twitter Thursday to comment.
“What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?” he wrote.
Chicago police took Smollett to task during Thursday’s press conference, calling his actions a slap in the face to the city of Chicago.
“Why would anyone, especially an African American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations? How could someone look at the hatred and suffering associated with that symbol and see an opportunity to manipulate that symbol to further his own public profile?” Johnson said. “How can an individual who’s been embraced by the city of Chicago turn around and slap everyone in this city in the face by making these false claims?”
Smollett has not issued a statement since his arrest. In an appearance on “Good Morning America” earlier this month, the actor dug in his heels amidst growing speculation and backlash, telling host Robin Roberts that he felt “pissed off” that some did not believe his story.
“It’s like, you know, at first, it was a thing of, like, ‘Listen, if I tell the truth then that’s it, ‘cause it’s the truth.’ Then it became a thing of like, ‘Oh, how can you doubt that? Like, how do you — how do you not believe that?’ It’s the truth,” Smollett said. “And then it became a thing of like, ‘Oh, it’s not necessarily that you don’t believe that this is the truth, you don’t even want to see the truth.’”
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