Jussie Smollett’s story strained credulity from the beginning.
Empire actor Jussie Smollett at PaleyFest Los Angeles 2016. (photo: Dominick D)
Colonel Mustard, With the Candlestick, In the Library
This was an easy one.
While liberal politicians, celebrities and journalists seemed only too eager to believe Jussie Smollett’s recent story that he was the victim of a hate crime perpetrated by racist white Trump supporters, amateur gumshoes everywhere were deeply skeptical from the beginning.
If the Smollett story had been a mystery novel, fans of the genre would have known ‘who done it’ by page two.
Grown-up Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews; Agatha Christie aficionados and Alex Cross fans; true crime readers; retired police investigators; watchers of the First-48 and FBI Files; Sword and the Scale listeners; and Sherlockians of every stripe were puzzled. Quizzical.
Not because they don’t believe in racism or hate crimes, but because from the beginning, certain details stood out as very odd.
Bread and Circuses
Did Jussie Smollett just decide to give the people what they wanted?
Smollett might have been rightly banking on the left’s desperate need to lend credence to their ‘Trump and 60 million Trump voters are violent dangerous racists’ theory.
He might have guessed, correctly, that the liberal establishment would fall upon his too-perfect plot-line scene like ravening fiends still smarting from the Covington debacle, and back him vociferously 100%.
Which, of course, it did.
What Jussie Smollett didn't count on was how much the rest of America loves a good mystery. And how good we are now at solving them now.
It Wasn't Me, It Was The One-Armed Man!
Suspension of disbelief doesn’t exist in real life.
When we go to the movies, or sit down to watch tv, we agree to be lied to and misled. We like it. We agree to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy the story, to get lost in the tale and the telling.
Without this, we couldn’t enjoy it much. We’d instead be constantly thinking about how impossible, improbable, unbelievable and ludicrous various story-lines are and how none of it could happen in real life. Bruce Willis could have never lived through that fall from the fighter plane; Indiana Jones could have never survived that nuclear blast; There is no Santa Claus, kid.
But when we agree to suspend disbelief, we allow ourselves enjoy tall tales about waitresses who live in million-dollar flats in NYC, circles of friends who all date each other and stay friends, Ben Affleck as Batman.
In real life, no one has made such an agreement to suspend disbelief. Jussie Smollett confused real life with tv, that was his first mistake.
Lying to police was his second. And it was a big one.
Getting Away With Lying to Someone Who Expects You to Lie
Everyone who has ever lied to the police thinks they are the first person clever enough to think of lying to the police.
They are very wrong, of course.
“I am smart enough to lie to the police.”
It should come as no surprise that most criminal suspects do, in fact, try lying to the police. It’s true. The police are well-used to this tactic, know to expect it every single day on the job and are fairly well-trained in dealing with it.
Lying to the police actually makes them happy. Lying tells the truth: You have something to lie about.
Lying well is hard and police investigators know it. Lying well under pressure is even harder; lying well and consistently under pressure is almost impossible.
Even for an actor.
Lying to the police gives them an incriminating tool to use against you later in a court of law. Catching minor changes in your story will expose your lies- and eventually your guilt. You might think you are giving a harmless interview with police, but prosecutors like to call that sort of thing ‘Exhibit A’.
Perhaps Jussie Smollett thought lying to the police would work because he believed the police would give him the benefit of the doubt.
He was wrong.
When Suspicion is a Job Requirement
People in law-enforcement don’t believe anyone. Not ever.
They don’t do ‘benefit of the doubt’, they don’t suspend disbelief. They don’t give people presumption of innocence; that’s a separate department.
Their job, their number one job, is suspicion.
Suspicion. Of everyone, at all times.
At the police academy, suspicion is probably taught as a competency.
And interviewing someone who lies and fakes emotions so well they are professionally paid to do it? Any policeman worth his salt wouldn’t be starstruck by Smollett, quite the opposite. If anything, Smollett’s job as an actor made police even more likely to expect lying, or at the very least, exaggerations.
Maybe Smollett thought, ‘sure, cops think suspects lie, but not victims!’
If so, he was wrong about that, too.
Perpetrators Masquerade As Victims All the Time
Victims and “victims” lie in police investigations every day.
Everyone to ever kill their husband or wife for insurance money like they were the first person to ever think of it, then go on tv begging for the kidnapper/murderer/their loved one to be found, lied to police investigators.
Every guilty parent who has concocted wild stories about baby-snatching boogeymen to hide a heinous crime, lied to police. Every faked burglary, every insurance-fraud arson. All lies.
Police know that victims sometimes even inadvertently lie, even if they are guiltless and not complicit in the crime in any way. Victims are eye-witnesses, and eye-witnesses are notoriously unreliable.
In thinking police would automatically ‘believe victims’ Smollett was wrong; police believe facts, not stories.
10,000 Hours of Training v. First Time Crime Hoaxer
Smollett also made another error in critical thinking when planning this attack hoax; he failed to understand the experience gap between himself and the Chicago P.D., to say nothing of the F.B.I.
Jussie Smollett had probably never even seen a real crime scene, much less seen enough of them to successfully stage one well enough to convince seasoned investigators.
The idea that Smollett could, with no experience whatsoever, successfully stage a crime so well as to fool, not just one, but a team of experienced investigators who have seen thousands, collectively, tens of thousands of crime scenes, is ludicrous.
The chances of Jussie Smollett being able to pull off such a spectacular stunt were slim to none at the outset. He was doomed from the moment he concocted the absurd scheme.
When the FBI was called in, which since the FBI is stepping up efforts to track and address hate crimes, was a certainty, the level of investigative experience went through the roof.
Real Life v. The Movies
Everything Jussie Smollett knew about crime scenes, he learned from the movies. That much was obvious to amateur gumshoes from the beginning.
Only in the movies would two white guys dare to sport MAGA caps in sub-zero downtown Chicago at 2:00 a.m. and happen to find their antithesis going out in the middle of the night, as one does, on a sandwich run.
Was this a nightly sandwich run? How did his attackers anticipate he would appear at such an odd hour, and all alone?
Was this a planned crime? If so, what was the attackers plan? To wait outside Smollett’s apartment complex in the freezing cold all night?
Were the perpetrators stalking him on social media well enough to know his movements? How organized are these individuals?
Also, and forgive me for saying this, the type of person who would commit such a hate crime is not likely to be a Rhodes scholar. White supremacists aren’t well-known for high intelligence because anyone with half a brain can work out the implications of genetics for themselves and see racism for the illogical foolishness it is.
How did they manage to carry out such a coordinated attack?
If it wasn’t a planned attack, other questions arise.
Let’s say Jussie Smollett did encounter two armed and racist individuals intent on perpetrating a violent crime based on their hateful belief system of white supremacy. They noticed he was black, hence the racial slurs. They might have noticed he was gay, hence the gay slurs, but how would they know he was an actor on the show Empire?
Who here thinks white supremacists watch Empire?
Not knowing any personally, I can still say for certain: No, they do not. White supremacists don’t like television shows that feature characters who are black and openly gay, just spitballing here.
Kind of like how it is a scientifically proven fact that no one who drives a Humvee listens to National Public Radio, and no one who listens to NPR does so in a Humvee.
Maybe Smollett’s attackers found out about him in some other way?
Like, how? There are plenty of outspoken celebrities with a higher profile, why him? He wasn’t exactly a household name before this attack occurred.
Strange Coincidences in a Police Case
Normal in movies, not in real life.
Not that MAGA hat wearing racist criminals don’t exist, there probably are some in a nation of over 330 billion people. But MAGA hat wearing maniacs with hate crime kits are not plentiful in downtown Chicago at 2am in sub-zero weather.
Stranger Crimes are Rare
Hate crimes are even more rare.
Movies are full of stranger danger, but police know a terrible truth: Statistically speaking, the person most likely to kill you…
Next most likely to kill you is your spouse or domestic partner. Followed by your best friend. Followed by the president of your fan club. Etc.
Depressing, isn’t it?
They do it out of anger, they do it for money, they do it out of some warped sense of self-defense, as Sherlock Holmes correctly asserted.
For a stranger to target another specific stranger in order to punish them for an impersonal reason like race or gender, is rare. For that would-be hate crime perpetrator to also be capable of planning and carrying out an attack has to be very, very rare.
Hate crimes, when they occur, are by and large crimes of circumstance, on victims of convenience who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Terrible, but not diabolical. Jethro, not Hannibal Lecter. Illegal, actionable, FBI trackable, but not planned out in advance against a specific target. When someone is specifically targeted by someone committing a hate crime, it is usually not a stranger, but a co-worker, a neighbor, a friend.
Often in these cases, there are other motivations involved; work or property disputes, for instance.
Fake Injuries v. Real Injuries
Look nothing alike to seasoned investigators.
We are so used to seeing gruesome wounds depicted in living color and lurid detail on the big screen, it is easy to forget that all those injuries are fake. In real life, if you had to tell one from the other, and especially if you had seen a fair few real-life injuries, you would have no trouble spotting the fake one.
Even Smollett’s post-attack photo looked movie-fake.
In the movies, heroic characters frequently emerge from harrowing battles, violent clashes, and fights with multiple assailants, with only a tiny cut on the bridge of their nose. A delicately bloodied lip, a genteel wound.
Getting set upon and beaten by two large men in a pre-meditated attack frequently lands people in the hospital for months or worse. People die.
At the very least, getting punched in the face, in case you’ve never been fortunate enough to try it, usually breaks the nose, which is a delicate flower. When this happens, both eyes turn black almost immediately. The amount of blood is unspeakable. Swelling distorts the features hideously.
And speaking of delicate flowers, what did Jussie Smollett expect responding officers to believe he had ‘fought the f#$% back!’ with, his sandwich?
As anyone who has ever had the misfortune of punching something or someone can attest, it hurts. Like, a lot.
The hand is filled with delicate little bones, and lots and lots of nerve endings. That’s right, the human hand is more easily damaged and more painful to damage than other parts of your anatomy.
If you must defend yourself, use the elbow instead. It’s the body’s bony weapon.
Because even punching someone hard once with a bare first is likely to cause visible bruising in the hand, at the very least. Punching a hard surface, like a human head or muscular body, multiple times will cause lacerations on the knuckles, if not breakage of the hand bones.
Especially in someone who is untrained and who doesn’t have much punching experience.
Based on the slightness of Smollett’s injuries, the narrative becomes even more unbelievable:
Two MAGA lunatics masterminded and pre-meditated a plot to injure or kill Jussie Smollett because they hate gay people and black people, gathered supplies to lynch him, stalked him, were successful in their efforts to surprise him and…
Were foiled because the victim, both surprised and outnumbered, managed to fight them off and emerge relatively unscathed.
Right. Only in the movies, Jussie.
In real life, if two criminals planned a coordinated attack on you and carried it out, you would be damned lucky just to survive. It might have escaped Smollett’s notice when decrying himself the ‘gay Tupac’ that Tupac did not survive his encounter with the men who came to kill him.
The Final Straw
The final straw, or maybe it was the first straw for investigators first called to examine this curious care, was the noose Jussie Smollett left dangling around his neck.
That is not evidence; that is a movie prop.
Only in the movies would the racial undertone of lynching conveyed by the rope super-cede the attacker’s legitimate need for a more effective weapon.
Not that a rope couldn’t be an effective weapon, if your attacker managed to get it around your neck. If an attackers did choose rope as their weapon in this bizarre game of clue, and they managed to get it around your neck…
You wouldn’t be wearing the noose home, you wouldn’t be wearing it when police came to interview you hours later: You’d be dead.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)