We can't believe we're writing this, but ...
... a new development in the Jussie Smollett investigation has caused authorities to wonder whether the Empire actor actually staged his own attack late last month.
As previously reported, surveillance footage taken from the vicinity around where the alleged assault took place early on the morning of January 29 depicted two men walking down the sidewalk.
Police released photos of these two men and labeled them as "persons of interest" in the investigation.
Here is one of the images unveiled to the public by the Chicago PD a couple weeks ago:
According to TMZ and other outlets, the two men featured above were picked up by cops at O'Hare Airport on Wednesday night and taken in for questioning.
Moreover, per WBBM TV reporter Charlie De Mar, the homes of these individuals were raided yesterday.
Now here is where things get legitimately weird and troubling:
The suspects are of Nigerian descent and both appeared as extras on Empire.
Multiple insiders have told the local ABC affiliate in Chicago that police are investigating whether Smollett worked with these two men to stage the assault because Smollet's character was being written off Empire.
To be clear, no one associated with the police department has commented on this possibility just yet.
However, Rob Elgas - a reporter at ABC 7 in Chicago - Tweeted the details of this theory on Thursday evening.
He added that Smollett did not appear for a scheduled interview on Thursday.
Brad Edwards, a reporter at CBS Chicago, has also cited a source who said that investigators believe the “non-cooperating 2 witnesses are co-conspirators in a potentially staged attack."
Smollett and his team have claimed on numerous occasions that the star was approached by two assailants around 2 a.m. on January 29.
They say these assailants hurled racial and anti-gay epithets in Smollet's direction; that they screamed he was in "MAGA country;" that theu doused him in bleach; and that they tied a rope around his neck.
The attack made national headlines, with 2020 Presidential candidates such as Kamala Harris and Cory Booker commenting on the hate crime and President Trump also labeling it as "horrible."
In the days since, however, some people have questioned the validity of Smollett's story.
They've wondered why he didn't call the police right away and why he's seemed hesitant to turn over his cell phone, and/or non-redacted records for his cell phone, to the authorities.
Smollett, who si 36 years old and who has been openly gay since 2015, appeared on Good Morning America on Thursday.
He fought off tears at various points while talking to Robin Roberts and addressed those who doubted his story.
“You don't even want to see the truth," he said of these critics, adding:
"It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me a lot much more. A lot more.
"And that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now."
Roberts asked Smollett about the time lapse between the attack and his 911 call, to which Smollett said the following...
"There's a level of pride there.
"We live in a society where, as a gay man, you are considered somehow, to be weak, and I'm not weak. I am not weak. And we, as a people, are not weak."
He went on to say it was "offensive" and "ridiculous" to allege that he was lying about this assault.
UPDATE: A lawyer for the two suspects has talked to the aforementioned CBS reporter, Edwards.
She's confirmed that the men do know Smollett from their work on Empire, telling the journalist:
“They do know Jussie. They have worked with him on Empire. My preliminary investigations show that on set it’s very tight.
"They’re all very cordial with each other, so they’re baffled why they are people of interest.”
Edwards writes that police took bleach, shoes, electronics, receipts and other items from the home of these men -- and he quotes a "TOP SOURCE" who sayss:
Indicators point to Smollett orchestrating the event.
This is a truly crazy twist.
We aren't about to rush to judgment in either direction, but we will keep readers apprised as more news breaks.
20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment have released a statement in response to the rumor that Smollett was being written off Empire.
It reads as follows:
"The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off EMPIRE is patently ridiculous. He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand by him."
Again, we will update this article as more information comes in.
UPDATE: Says the Chief Communications Officer for the Chicago Police Department:
Media reports anout 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.