“You need to go back where you came from!”
That’s what Georgia State Rep. Erica Thomas (D) claimed in a tearful Facebook Live video that grocery store customer Eric Sparkes said to her as a cashier rang up her groceries in the express lane of the Publix Mableton location on July 19.
Her allegations were made just two days after a Wednesday Trump campaign rally in Greenville, N.C., where chants of “send her back” were started by the crowd during President Donald Trump’s remarks on Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Omar is originally from Somalia and has been a frequent critic of Trump’s.
Just days before the rally, Trump tweeted that Omar and three other freshman congresswomen should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.” Democrats and several media outlets decried the remarks as “racist.”
Thomas, who is black, insinuated in her video that Trump’s tweets and the chants from the rally emboldened Sparkes to say “go back where you came from” to her.
The outrage mobs pounced. Several national news outlets ran with the dramatic story. Thomas’ video was viewed almost 200,000 times. Her name trended on Twitter. National Democrats jumped on her story and blamed Trump.
The only problem is that the most explosive element of Thomas’ story fell apart quickly thanks to an interview she gave the very next day.
“I don’t want to say he said, ‘Go back to your country,’ or ‘Go back to where you came from.’ But he was making those types of references is what I remember,” Thomas told the local reporter who questioned her outside of the Publix store.
Complicating matters for Thomas was the fact that Sparkes also showed up at the Publix location to counter her. He asserted he was a Cuban-American Democrat who would “vote Democrat for the rest of my life.”
Screen captures taken from his Facebook page indicate that, at the very least, Sparkes isn’t a Trump supporter. In fact, in the days prior to the confrontation, Sparkes expressly condemned Trump’s controversial tweets about sending the Omar “back.”
Several days later, Publix released a video that gave a clearer picture of what happened. While it didn’t have audio, it cast more doubt on Thomas’ story of being a victim of racism, feeling like she was in danger, at a loss for words, and having to explain to her daughter why Sparkes was (allegedly) using racist language.
It’s clear Thomas took control of the situation quickly after Sparkes approached her (not with his fists “clenched” as she originally asserted) and pointed to the express lane sign. In fact, she practically chased him out of the store. She never turned to speak to her daughter about anything.
Not a single witness corroborates her claim Sparkes told her to “go back where you came from.” In fact, one witness says it was Thomas who repeatedly told Sparkes to “go back” to where he came from. The only thing all parties agreed to was that he called Thomas a “lazy b—-.”
Sparkes should never have confronted her about using the express lane. But just because he wanted to play express lane monitor and act stupidly was no excuse for her to stoke racial tensions unnecessarily.
Thomas has a right to shop in peace and to defend herself when confronted. She does not, however, have the right to defame another person and fan racial flames by saying things that are at odds with how it appears the situation played out according to eyewitnesses and video.
Major newspapers and websites ran uncritically with this story but have now backed off, as have the outrage mobs. Unfortunately, the damage is already done.
Stacey Matthews is a veteran blogger who has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a regular contributor to Red State and Legal Insurrection.