Stephen Colbert Calls Jussie Smollett Case a "Horrible Affront" to Real Victims of Hate Crimes

"This story involves race, sexuality, politics and violence, so I need to tread very lightly here and simply say — what a dick," said Colbert. "It sets back the credibility."
Scott Kowalchyk/CBS
Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert kicked off Thursday's episode of The Late Show by sharing that "it was a strange and disturbing news day in America."

He said the "ickiest" story was the charge against Jussie Smollett that the Empire actor falsified a police report and staged a racist and homophobic attack against himself. Police believe that his motive was linked to his dissatisfaction with his salary on Empire.

"This story involves race, sexuality, politics and violence, so I need to tread very lightly here and simply say — what a dick," Colbert said.

The host explained that Smollett "cast himself as a fake national symbol for our real racial and political divide" when he told police that two masked men attacked him while they yelled racist and homophobic remarks, as well as invoking President Trump's slogan to declare Chicago "MAGA country" during the alleged assault. He additionally claimed that his attackers tied a noose around his neck and poured bleach on him.

Police said that Smollett hired two black brothers to commit the scheme. "Look, I'm no expert, but if you're gonna fake a white supremacist hate crime, hire two white guys," Colbert said. "This is one place where you don't want diversity."

Colbert added that he used to live in Chicago. "They have white guys there. Go to a Blackhawks game," he said.

He said Smollett committed a "conspiracy no-no" and paid the brothers by check, an element of the story that fellow late-night host Trevor Noah also focused on during Thursday's Daily Show. "It did not help that he wrote in the memo line, 'For faking hate crime against me, Jussie Smollett, the guy from Empire,'" Colbert joked.

"The whole thing is just depressing," he added. "The whole thing is a horrible affront to actual victims of hate crimes and it's done horribly. It sets back the credibility. There's no good reason to do something like this, but Smollett had a particularly bad one."

A clip from Thursday's police press briefing in Chicago showed law enforcement officials saying they believe Smollett faked the crime because he was dissatisfied with his salary. "What? He staged a hate crime to boost his career? There are legitimate ways to do that. Has he never heard of a sex tape?" Colbert asked.

Trump got in on the conversation by addressing a tweet to Smollett on Thursday morning. "What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?" Colbert read the tweet with his best impression of the president.

The host continued his Trump impression and said, "After all, racist and dangerous comments, kind of my thing."

Watch Colbert's full reaction below.