By Jamie Ducharme
February 14, 2019

In his first interview since being attacked in a potential hate crime, Empire actor Jussie Smollett said he is “forever changed” by the violence — and “pissed off” by those who have questioned his story.

“I will never be the man that this did not happen to. I am forever changed,” Smollett told Robin Roberts on ABC’s Good Morning America Thursday. “And I don’t subscribe to the idea that everything happens for a reason, but I do subscribe to the idea that we have the right and the responsibility to make something meaningful out of the things that happen to us, good and bad.”

The Empire star, who is openly gay and plays a gay character on the show, told police that he was attacked by two men around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 in Chicago. The attackers kicked and punched Smollett, placed a rope around his neck, poured bleach on him and used racial and homophobic slurs, according to the actor. Smollett said he suffered minor injuries, and received care at a Chicago hospital.

He also confirmed an earlier report that one of the men shouted “this is MAGA country” during the attack — an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

Smollett told Roberts that he’s been upset by those who have doubted his accounts of the incident.

“It’s the attackers, but it’s also the attacks,” Smollet said, referring to what he called false reports and accusations, including that the incident stemmed from a date gone bad. “It’s not necessarily that you don’t believe that this is the truth. You don’t even want to see the truth.”

Smollett also said he feels he was targeted because of his criticism of Trump and his administration. “I don’t hold my tongue,” he said.

Police have not turned up any surveillance footage of the alleged attack, though they did find video of Smollett walking home and arriving at his apartment building with a rope around his neck. Smollett, who told GMA he was on the phone with his creative director at the time of the attack, refused to give his phone to police, but turned over “limited and heavily redacted” phone records, police said. The redactions were intended to “protect the privacy of personal contacts or high-profile individuals not relevant to the attack,” Smollett’s spokesman said, according to CBS Chicago.

In the interview, Smollett defended the decision not to turn over his phone to investigators directly, saying it contained private pictures, phone numbers and other details.

“Police continue to treat Smollett as a victim, and are investigating this as a possible hate crime,” Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement, NBC Chicago reports. “Police remain interested in identifying and contacting people of interest. Investigators may want to speak to Smollett again. They are not even looking at charges regarding filing a false report.”

Police did initially find video of two persons of interest who were seen in the vicinity of the attack around the correct time, but were not able to identify them. On GMA, Smollett said he is confident those individuals were his assailants.

“For me, when that was released, I was like, ‘Okay, we’re getting somewhere,'” he said. “I don’t have any doubt in my mind that that’s them. Never did.”

Write to Jamie Ducharme at jamie.ducharme@time.com.

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