Monday marked the five-year anniversary of President Joe Biden’s online condemnation of a “hate crime” that never happened.
On Jan. 29, 2019, “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, who is black and gay, made national headlines with claims a pair of white supremacist Trump supporters violently attacked him. The actor said his assailants screamed, “This is MAGA country!” in the apparently far-right city of Chicago.
“I will never be the man this did not happen to,” Smollett told ABC News in an interview with Robin Roberts two weeks later. By December 2021, Smollett was convicted on five out of six charges over staging a fake attack. As it turns out, Smollett hired a pair of Nigerian brothers to help him carry out the hate crime hoax.
Eager to exploit the episode as an example of America’s systemic, virulent discrimination illustrating the country’s irredeemable racism and homophobia, Biden got swept up in the controversy along with the rest of the corporate press.
“What happened today to [Jussie Smollett] must never be tolerated in this country,” Biden wrote on Twitter, now known as X. “We must stand up and demand that we no longer give this hate safe harbor; that homophobia and racism have no place on our streets or in our hearts.”
Another post from Vice President Kamala Harris also remains online.
“[Jussie Smollett] is one of the kindest, most gentle human beings I know,” then-California Senator Harris said. “This was an attempted modern day lynching. No one should have to fear for their life because of their sexuality or color of their skin. We must confront this hate.”
Despite Smollet being found guilty more than two years ago, the Black Lives Matter organization continued to support the disgraced actor as a victim of “injustice.”
“In an abolitionist society, this trial would not be taking place, and our communities would not have to fight and suffer to prove our worth,” the organization wrote in a statement during the criminal trial.
Smollett was convicted in March 2022, but an Illinois appeals court ordered his release after just six days behind bars. In December 2023, the court upheld Smollet’s conviction in a 2-1 decision. The actor was ordered to pay a $25,000 fine plus more than $120,000 in restitution to Chicago and serve a 150-day jail sentence.