Tuesday 19 March 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'Hate crime or hoax? Smollett row is fascinating'

Jussie Smollett (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Jussie Smollett (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

One of the more unusual stories to come out of the lunatic asylum that is America 2019 occurred recently with the alleged attack on Empire actor Jussie Smollett.

On the night of January 29, the actor claims he was attacked in Chicago by two Trump supporters who called him the 'N' word, made homophobic slurs, doused him with bleach and placed a noose around his neck.

It was, by any metric, a horrific assault.

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It is also looking increasingly that all was not as it first appeared.

The Chicago police have expressed frustration with both the inconsistencies in his story and his reluctance to hand over his phone records, which would support his claims.

Several of his neighbours have gone public to say they simply don't believe him and numerous American papers are awash with suggestions that it was either a hoax, or a minor incident which was magnified beyond proportion.

But here's the interesting thing - nobody knows.

The people who believe him do so because they want to believe him.

It suits their paranoid world view that Trump supporters are in the habit of patrolling Chicago's suburbs in the dead of winter looking for black, gay, liberal, anti-Trump celebrities to attack.

The people who don't believe him do so because they don't want to believe him.

It suits their paranoid world view to think that anyone who hates Trump, as Smollett does, is a liar and will do anything to gain public sympathy.

Yet neither side has actually stopped to weigh up the evidence.

And evidence is all that matters.

That's how fractured the culture has become - when a claim is either believed or dismissed simply because of the politics of the person involved.

That there were inconsistencies and gaps in his story doesn't mean he fabricated the whole thing - just ask any victim of a violent crime how perfect their recall of the incident was.

But nor should he be given an immediate free pass simply because of who he is and who his alleged attackers were.

His defenders have accused the sceptics of racism, but facts are meant to be colour-blind.

Either he was attacked or he wasn't. But when the truth does emerge, one of the sides is going to look very stupid indeed.

Hate crimes do happen - but so do hoaxes.

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