It now appears that Jussie Smollett may have made up the story of his attack. If true, it is disgraceful and, in my opinion, inexcusable.
But let’s be clear. Just because one person lied about a racist and homophobic incident does not let all bigots off the hook. This is not a reprieve for anyone who has set a bomb off in a mosque or sprayed a synagogue with deadly gunfire.
We live in a country where bigotry is commonplace. And that’s just as disgraceful and inexcusable as someone staging a fake attack.
Now that police have officially accused Smollett of lying that supporters of President Donald Trump doused him with bleach, hung a noose around his neck and shouted, “This is MAGA country,” bigots seem to think they are due an apology.
They insist that only race-baiters would believe that such a horrible thing could actually happen in America. They can’t see how anyone could possibly consider an African-American man to be a victim, let alone a gay one.
They are the real victims here, these angry Trump supporters contend. Though they helped put a so-called “bigot-in-chief” in office, they insist that they are being unfairly blamed for forcing America down this treacherous and agonizing road of intolerance.
They desperately needed vindication to prove that bigots aren’t as bad as people think they are. They needed someone they could, for once, point a finger at for the infectious venom spewing from our nation.
As far as bigots are concerned, Smollett gave it to them. The liberal media, the Trump haters and Hillary Clinton lovers are the real problem with America, they surmised. Finally, they have a chance to dump America’s hateful garbage at somebody else’s feet.
So they celebrated on Thursday when Smollett appeared in court to face charges. They took to social media to boast “told you so” when police said the actor had staged the Chicago attack as well as sent a threatening letter to himself as a ploy to get a higher salary for his role on the Fox television show “Empire.”
Bigots are acting as though their lottery numbers finally came in, and they are walking away with a bigger jackpot than they could have imagined.
They have been trying unsuccessfully to silence anyone who steps up and calls out racism and bigotry for the evils they are. Now, they are hoping the Smollett incident will force these so-called race-baiters to retreat to a corner, afraid to utter another word.
It would be in the bigots’ best interest if no one pointed out that the number of hate groups operating in America reached a record high last year — more than 1,020, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. It would suit them just fine if everyone ignored the fact there had been three years of decline in the groups under President Barack Obama, but since Trump launched his presidential bid in 2015, the numbers have grown for four years straight.
From now on, they want America to be wary of anyone who claims to have been attacked because of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. They want us to believe that the so-called “Trump effect” is a conspiracy theory orchestrated by liberals to discredit the president and portray his supporters as idiots.
But we won’t forget that three men, including the owner of a company that sought to build Trump’s border wall, were charged with setting off a bomb at the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in suburban Minneapolis in 2017 as people prepared for morning prayers.
We remember the two brothers in Boston who were sentenced for urinating on a homeless immigrant and beating him with a metal pole in 2015 while saying, “Donald Trump was right.”
Of course, we will never forget the massacre last October at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh or Dylann Roof’s deadly attack at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston the day after Trump announced his candidacy. But we also won’t forget about Stuart Wright, the Chicago accountant and white supremacist with a swastika tattooed on his back who was caught on video in 2017 smashing windows and defacing the front door of the Chicago Loop Synagogue.
Over time, the name Jussie Smollett will become as distant as Susan Smith, the South Carolina mother who murdered her two children in 1994 and lied that an African-American man had taken them in a carjacking, and Charles Stuart, who murdered his pregnant wife in Boston in 1989 and blamed it on a black assailant.
But we will keep on talking about every racist and bigoted attack that occurs under Trump’s watch. And when he’s gone from office, we’ll keep shining a spotlight.
Bigots may think that Smollett handed them a huge victory with his apparent lies. But the rest of us are going to make sure they don’t get to hold on to the prize.
Dahleen Glanton wrote this for the Chicago Tribune.