Over the past year, Erika Thompson has amassed about 6 million followers on TikTok, where she chronicles her day-to-day life as a beekeeper. Her videos follow a fairly consistent formula: In a calm, mesmerizing voice, she explains that a client asked her to help them deal with a bee infestation, whether it be in a shed, an RV, a trash can, a toilet, or some other strange hovel. Wearing a uniform of black leggings, a black tank-top, and a dark button-down—her makeup impeccable, her hair neatly curled—she strides casually into entire swarms of bees, scooping up hundreds at a time with her bare hands. She gently shepherds them into boxes, transports them home, and sets up a new hive for them at her backyard apiary in Texas. Each outing, as she said in one recent video, is just “another great day of saving the bees.”
To most people, Thompson probably seems pretty innocuous—but to a small, ardent army of detractors, she has become a villain, whose videos are a scourge on the world of beekeeping that must be stopped.
The controversy surrounding Thompson appears to have broken out on May 24, when a Twitter user accused her of mishandling the bees she works with and, for good measure, of being a Trump supporter.
Later that day, the same user posted a series of TikToks by @lahoneybeerescue, who appears to be a beekeeper themselves. That user, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, criticized Thompson for working with bees without proper protective gear, and alleged that her videos are “faked.” According to the TikToker, Thompson’s “husband goes in, cuts everything up for her, [and] she lifts it up.”
That video went viral, along with at least one more tweet referring to Thompson as “a Trumper and a fraud.” That’s a convenient narrative, and a juicy one—but there’s not a shred of evidence that indicates either allegation is true.
Thompson hasn’t explicitly disclosed her political affiliations online, and she didn’t respond to a request for comment from VICE. But on Twitter and Instagram, she follows a number of left-leaning politicians and organizations—including the Bidens, the Obamas, Hilary Clinton, and the NAACP—and doesn’t follow any of their right-wing counterparts. One Twitter user posted a photo purporting to show Thompson decked out in Trump merchandise. In reality, Thompson isn’t actually in that photo, as that user themselves later admitted.
Additionally, a review of campaign finance data from 2013 to 2021, made publicly available by the Federal Election Commission, didn’t turn up a single donation from Thompson to any political candidate in the past eight years, nor to any political party. (A Texas woman named Erika Thompson did repeatedly donate to Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee over that time period, but public records show that woman—a retiree—is not the same Erika Thompson at the heart of this controversy.)
The fact that Thompson (the beekeeper) follows Democrats on social media, and never donated to Trump’s campaign, doesn’t technically rule out the possibility that she might still be a Trump supporter. But there’s nothing out there that suggests she is.
The claim that Thompson is a “fraud,” who relies on her husband to do most of her beekeeping work for her, also doesn’t appear to hold up. Thompson launched her beekeeping business, Texas Bee Works, in 2014, five years before she married her husband, Andrew Hollister, according to an October profile in Texas Monthly. Hollister doesn’t appear to have any experience working with bees; instead, he’s worked in real estate and investing, public records show. For her part, Thompson told Texas Monthly she’s been fascinated by bugs since she was a kid. She took a beekeeping course in college, she said, and fell in love with the insects. After picking up beekeeping as a hobby, she launched Texas Bee Works as a side-gig to complement her career in communications. Then, in 2019, she started working on Texas Bee Works full-time.
Maybe Thompson’s husband is some kind of closeted beekeeping pro assisting her behind the scenes. Or maybe—as is so often the case in these situations—the truth is a lot more mundane than the rumor mill would have you believe: This professional beekeeper is, in fact, doing all her beekeeping herself.
One final line of attack lobbed at Thompson is that she sets a dangerous example by working with bees sans protective gear, with her hair down—a choice some beekeepers say leaves her at severe risk of getting stung. They argue that if someone who’s seen her videos—say, a teenager—decides to try their hand at beekeeping and approaches a hive unprotected, they could get seriously injured. That’s probably true—but Thompson isn’t encouraging anyone to try what she does at home. She’s also forthcoming about the fact that these videos don’t show every second of her hours-long beekeeping process, which often sees her don more than a pair of leggings and a button-down.
“The removals that went viral, those are some cases where I’m not wearing gear,” she recently told VICE’s Snapchat team. “But, you know, there are other cases where I am wearing gear. One of the things you don’t see, maybe, in the one-minute TikTok videos—I’m in Texas, and it’s incredibly hot. Sometimes these removals take 30 minutes; sometimes they take three hours or more. Beekeeping gear in general, it’s big and it’s bulky… It makes it a little bit more difficult to work with these tiny creatures who are very delicate.”
It’s fun to baselessly accuse a TikTok beekeeper of being a Trump-supporting fraud, who—by making (some) videos in which she tends to bees without a dorky mask on—is single-handedly fueling a rise in bee-related injuries. But that’s probably not the real story here. Of course, you can choose to ignore that information, and pile onto the anti-TikTok-beekeeper bandwagon anyways—or you can leave the beekeeper lady alone, get off Twitter, and take a goddamn walk or something.
Follow Drew Schwartz on Twitter.