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Democrats and media figures were quick to condemn what they described as a racist and homophobic attack against actor Jussie Smollett in 2019, blaming it on a culture of hate fostered by then-President Trump, but their words may come back to bite them now that Smollett faces up to three years in prison for allegedly fabricating the assault.
Smollett originally told police that on Jan. 29, 2019, two masked men attacked him outside his apartment at 2 a.m. in Chicago, hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him, threw chemicals on him, looped a noose around his neck, and told him he was in “MAGA country.” Smollett spent a night in the hospital following the incident and was released without any serious injuries.
Jussie Smollett walks out of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse today after pleading not guilty to a new indictment on Feb. 24, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates immediately condemned the alleged attack. Vice President Kamala Harris, then a California senator, and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., expressed solidarity with Smollett at the time and both blasted the alleged attack as “an attempted modern-day lynching.” President Biden, also a candidate at the time, tweeted, “We are with you, Jussie,” and that “homophobia and racism have no place on our streets or in our hearts.”
“The racist and homophobic attack on Jussie Smollett is a horrific instance of the surging hostility toward minorities around the country,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., tweeted at the time. “We must come together to eradicate all forms of bigotry and violence.”
“The racist, homophobic attack on @JussieSmollett is an affront to our humanity,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tweeted at the time. “No one should be attacked for who they are or whom they love.”
Now, Smollett is set to stand trial on charges that he staged the attack against himself.
As Chicago police started to investigate the attack in 2019, Smollett’s story fell apart. Police alleged weeks after he made his report that Smollett paid two friends to help stage the attack because he was unhappy with his salary on the TV show “Empire.” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson said in late February 2019 that Smollett “took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career.” Smollet was arrested at the time and charged with fabricating the attack.
Conservatives slammed the left for rushing to judgment on Smollett’s story. Then-president Trump, who initially called reports of the attack “horrible,” tweeted after Smollett’s arrest in February 2019, “What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?”
Actor Jussie Smollett speaks with members of the media after his court appearance at Leighton Courthouse on March 26, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
Harris reversed course weeks after her initial tweet, saying she was “sad, frustrated, and disappointed” over the developments.
“When anyone makes false claims to police, it not only diverts resources away from serious investigations but it makes it more difficult for other victims of crime to come forward,” Harris said in February 2019. “At the same time, we must speak the truth: hate crimes are on the rise in America.”
Booker took a similar approach at the time, declining to weigh in any further on the Smollett case and instead calling attention to a nationwide rise in “vicious, horrific, cruel violence that’s motivated by bias and hate.”
Pelosi deleted her initial tweet supporting Smollett but refrained from commenting on the case again. Her office did not respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.
Biden and Sanders have yet to weigh in on any new developments in the case, and their initial tweets supporting Smollett remain active on their accounts. Their offices did not respond to Fox News Digital’s requests for comment.
Shortly after his initial arrest, the Cook County State Attorney’s Office on Mar. 7, 2019 filed a 16-count felony indictment against Smollett on charges that he staged the hate crime attack and made numerous false statements to police. But then just three weeks later, the CCSAO dropped those charges in exchange for 15 hours of community service and the agreement that Smollett would forfeit his $10,000 bond to the City of Chicago.
Months after the prosecutors dropped the charges with little explanation, a judge appointed a special prosecutor, former U.S. attorney Dan Webb, to look into the original investigation.
Webb eventually determined that Smollett “planned and participated in a staged hate crime attack, and thereafter made numerous false statements to Chicago Police Department officers on multiple occasions, reporting a heinous hate crime that he, in fact, knew had not occurred.”
After Webb’s investigation, a Cook County grand jury in February 2020 returned a new six-count indictment charging Smollett with making multiple false reports to Chicago police.
Smollett pleaded not guilty and his defense team filed a motion to dismiss the latest charges over double-jeopardy, but a judge shot that down in June 2020. Smollett still claimed he did nothing wrong, telling TMZ he’s innocent.
He was charged with felony disorderly conduct. The class 4 felony carries a sentence of up to three years in prison but experts have said it’s more likely that if Smollett is convicted, he would be placed on probation and perhaps ordered to perform community service.
Fox News’ Paul Best and the Associated Press contributed to this report.