Reporter Rafer Weigel at Fox 32 in Chicago is reporting that attorney Mark Geragos has joined Jussie Smollett’s legal team.
Top attorney Mark Geragos has joined #JussieSmollett legal team. He is assisting Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson. #CPD sources tell me an indictment of #Smollett could be coming in “a matter of hours. Not days”.
— Rafer Weigel (@RaferWeigel) February 20, 2019
Word that Smollett was talking to Geragos was reported yesterday by CBS Chicago reporter Brad Edwards. So the bigger news here (from Weigel) may be that an indictment could be imminent. As Ed noted earlier today, the Nigerian brothers who are now cooperating with police were set to give testimony before a grand jury yesterday. CBS This Morning reported they were actually waiting to go into the grand jury hearing room when Smollett’s lawyers called. Suddenly the testimony was called off. It’s not clear if that was because Smollett’s team offered them something (they’ve been looking to hold a follow-up interview with him) or for some other reason. In any case, if Weigel’s report is correct then the indictment is still coming. If that news breaks I’ll update this story below.
Meanwhile, the Atlantic has published a pretty insightful, and in this climate also brave, piece by Columbia University professor John McWhorter. McWhorter says repeatedly that the story isn’t over yet and could take another turn but if it turns out Smollett did stage this attack as the brothers claim, what does that say about him and American society in general. He calls this “victimhood chic”:
Until this twist, smart people were claiming that the attack on Smollett was the story of Donald Trump’s America writ small—that it revealed the terrible plight of minority groups today. But the Smollett story, if the “trajectory” leads to evidence of fakery, would actually reveal something else modern America is about: victimhood chic. Future historians and anthropologists will find this aspect of early-21st-century America peculiar, intriguing, and sad.
Smollett doesn’t need the money he would get from a court settlement, and he isn’t trying to deny someone higher office. So why in the world would he fake something like that attack—if he did indeed fake it? The reason might be that he has come of age in an era when nothing he could have done or said would have made him look more interesting than being attacked on the basis of his color and sexual orientation.
Racial politics today have become a kind of religion in which whites grapple with the original sin of privilege, converts tar questioners of the orthodoxy as “problematic” blasphemers, and everyone looks forward to a judgment day when America “comes to terms” with race. Smollett—if he really did stage the attack—would have been acting out the black-American component in this eschatological configuration, the role of victim as a form of status. We are, within this hierarchy, persecuted prophets, ever attesting to the harm that white racism does to us and pointing to a future context in which our persecutors will be redeemed of the sin of having leveled that harm upon us. We are noble in our suffering.
It doesn’t surprise me that in the age of intersectionality, where the more oppressed you are the more your voice needs to be amplified, someone would see an advantage in acting out that oppression. In fact, that seems to me to be the case in dozens of other fake hate crimes reported and then busted over the past few years. If you believe you’re oppressed, you naturally want others to believe that too even if you have to stage the proof yourself.
For Smollett, being a successful actor and singer might not have been quite as exciting as being a poster child for racist abuse in Trump’s America.
Assuming, again, that the reports are accurate, Smollett’s clumsiness would be an especially poignant indication of how deeply this victimhood chic has taken hold—almost as if he thought this was such an easy score that he didn’t even need to think too hard about the logistics.
If the reports are true that Smollett himself planned the attack because the hate letter (which he may also have fabricated) didn’t make a big enough splash, that’s pretty telling about what he was looking for. Remember Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character telling Tom Cruise’s Jerry Maguire in the film of the same name that he wanted the “Quan”? The idea was that there’s a level of celebrity above money and minor fame. There’s a level where it becomes love and respect. Doesn’t it seem entirely possible that Smollett thought this was his path to the Quan? Put it this way, if he did stage this and didn’t get caught, would he be more famous and respected now especially on the left? There’s no doubt the answer is yes. And McWhorter closes by suggesting that says something about where we really are today in terms of race relations:
Only in an America in which matters of race are not as utterly irredeemable as we are often told could things get to the point that someone would pretend to be tortured in this way, acting oppression rather than suffering it, seeking to play a prophet out of a sense that playing a singer on television is not as glamorous as getting beaten up by white guys. That anyone could feel this way and act on it in the public sphere is, in a twisted way, a kind of privilege, and a sign that we have come further on race than we are often comfortable admitting.
I suspect McWhorter is going to face some serious backlash over this. It’s just not the kind of thing you’re supposed to say even if it rings true. And again, that’s true regardless of how the Smollett case turns out because there are lots of other examples.