But the reality is this mess won’t change much of anything. Although Smollett’s fame made the attack national news for a few weeks, his alleged deceit won’t have a lasting impact on anyone but himself. A hoax like this would never have worked if we weren’t already divided about how seriously to treat hate crimes and whether victims should be believed—too divided for an isolated incident to make things worse.
To be sure, Jussie Smollett’s name will doubtless be invoked for years to come as a means of distraction and evasion whenever the subjects of hate crimes, anti-gay prejudice, racism, or believing victims comes up. But the sort of people who believe that racism isn’t that bad, that gay bashing isn’t real, that victims are often liars, and that liberals are dummies for caring would have believed those things with or without his help. The sorts of people who scoff at the idea of hate crimes don’t do it because a high-profile case turned out to be a hoax—they seize on hoaxes and whatever else they can find because they politically oppose civil rights.
If it was important to such people that the Jussie Smollett case was a hoax, then it would be important that the case of Robin A. Rhodes, who in January 2017 assaulted a woman wearing a hijab yelling “Trump is here now. He will get rid of you,” was not a hoax. Or that the case in Florida later in 2017, where Brandon Ray Davis yelled anti-gay slurs and “You’re in Trump country now,” as he ran down two gay men with his scooter was not a hoax. Or that Trump said there were very fine people on both sides in Charlottesville, Virginia, even though one side consisted of violent white supremacists, one of whom murdered a woman.