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Police are investigating an alternate theory in regards to the alleged attack on Empire actor Jussie Smollett and looking into whether it was “potentially staged,” ABC Chicago reported Thursday.
“Multiple sources tell @ABC7Chicago Eyewitness News Jussie Smollet [sic] and the 2 men who are being questioned by police staged the attack – allegedly because his character was being written out of the show Empire,” the network’s reporter Rob Elgas tweeted.
20th Century Fox released the following statement, disputing the report, shortly after: “The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of EMPIRE is patently ridiculous. He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him.”
The writing team on Empire echoed that statement, tweeting from the official writers room account, “The writers of Empire have never planned or even discussed writing @JussieSmollett off of the show.”
This news also comes after a report by CBS Chicago said the police raided the home of two persons of interest in the attack on Wednesday night. The local news outlet reports that both persons of interest are of Nigerian descent and have appeared as extras on the show.
CBS Chicago reporter Charles De Mar tweeted on Thursday that he “asked family why they think police picked the two brothers up for questioning and they replied by saying the men left for #Nigeria the day of the attack.”
Not long after these tweets surfaced, Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi wrote on Twitter, “Media reports anout [sic] the Empire incident being a hoax are unconfirmed by case detectives. Supt Eddie Johnson has contacted @ABC7Chicago to state on the record that we have no evidence to support their reporting and their supposed CPD sources are uninformed and inaccurate.”
On ABC’s Nightline Thursday evening the attorney for the persons of interest said that her clients do know Smollett, and are “horrified by what happened to him.” She added that they don’t know why they are of interest and that “they are not guilty.”
According to Nightline, police confirmed the two people are cooperating, and that Smollett did speak to police again on Thursday.
The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Chicago police for comment.
The news comes after Chicago police earlier on Thursday announced they had identified and were questioning two persons of interest in the attack, which Smollett said occurred in the early morning hours of Jan. 29. The two assailants allegedly yelled racist and homophobic language before and during the beating.
“The people of interest are alleged to be in the area where a crime was reported,” Chicago police spokesman Guglielmi said Thursday. “They are not considered suspects at this time as they are currently being questioned by detectives. We remain in communication with the alleged victim.”
The actor also told police at the time that his attackers yelled pro-“Make America Great Again” (MAGA) comments during the attack, such as declaring Chicago “MAGA country.” According to a police report, a chemical substance was poured on Smollett’s face and a rope was placed around his neck.
In a sit-down interview that aired on ABC’s Good Morning America on Thursday, Smollett addressed rumors about the incident, and said that he fought back against his attackers.
“For me, the main thing was the idea that I somehow switched up my story, you know? And that somehow maybe I added a little extra trinket, you know, of the MAGA thing,” Smollett said. “I didn’t need to add anything like that. They called me a f—ot, they called me a n—er. There’s no which way you cut it. I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae.”
Feb. 14, 9:49 p.m. Updated with quotes from the attorney provided by ABC’s Nightline.
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