As It Happens

Why this teenager publicly ID'd her family at D.C's pro-Trump protests

Helena Duke says she publicly identified her mother, aunt and uncle from a crowd of Trump supporters in Washington, D.C., because it was "the right thing to do."

'I decided that this is the right thing to do,' says 18-year-old Helena Duke

Helena Duke, 18, named her mother, aunt and uncle publicly after she spotted them in a viral video of an altercation outside the U.S. Capitol one day before the siege by a mob pro-Trump extremists. (Submitted by Helena Duke)

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Helena Duke says she publicly identified her mother, aunt and uncle from a crowd of Trump supporters in Washington, D.C., because it was "the right thing to do."

Duke, an 18-year-old Massachusetts high school student, spotted her relatives in a viral video of an altercation between Trump supporters and a Black woman in D.C. one day before the deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol building.

On Twitter, she posted: "hi mom remember the time you told me I shouldn't go to BLM protests bc they could get violent...this you?" In a followup tweet, she identified her mom, aunt and uncle by name.

"I think a lot of it came from the fact that it was just very hypocritical, and what she was doing in this video was incredibly wrong," Duke told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"Seeing the video and seeing all the people and the FBI asking for identification of the individuals in the video, I decided after a lot of processing — because, of course, it's emotional and it is my family — I decided that this is the right thing to do."

Duke says she had no idea where her mother was until her cousin sent her a viral video of pro-Trump supporters at Freedom Plaza in D.C. on Tuesday, in an altercation with a Black woman, who appears to be wearing some kind of uniform.

In the video, Duke saw her mother appearing to try to snatch the woman's phone from her hand. The woman then punches her mother in the face, leaving her bloodied. 

The woman who threw the punch identified herself online as Ashanti. On GoFundMe, she said she was fired from her job and is facing criminal charges for defending herself from a group of Trump supporters who she says hurled racial slurs at her, and tried to steal her phone, keys and mask.

"I think the woman thought she was in danger, rightfully so, and reacted accordingly," Duke said. 

The online fundraiser garnered more than $75,000 US in donations as of Monday evening. 

Duke identified her mother as Therese Duke, who, according to LinkedIn, was an employee at UMass Memorial Health Care in Worcester, Mass. 

The health-care provider has since issued a statement on Twitter, which reads: "Over the past 24 hours we have received numerous expressions of concern through social media regarding a UMass Memorial caregiver who may have been involved in this week's violent events at the nation's capitol. The employee in question is no longer a part of our organization."

Duke confirmed that her mother lost her job, "because she does work at a hospital and she obviously went to a protest with many people and she wasn't wearing a mask."

As It Happens was unable to reach Therese Duke for comment, and she hasn't spoken publicly since her daughter identified her.

Duke says her family has been torn apart during Donald Trump's presidency as she watched her mom become increasingly radicalized by right-wing rhetoric and online conspiracy theories.

The people who protested in D.C. last week, as well as those who later stormed the Capitol, believe Trump's unfounded claims that he actually beat Joe Biden in the U.S. presidential election. It's not clear whether Duke's family members were at Capitol Hill the day of the siege. 

"She actually has been a Democrat her whole life up until the Trump presidency. And it was unsettling seeing how quickly she had changed to a radically right ideology," Duke said.

"The things that she was saying really didn't make sense. A lot of them were conspiracy theories, almost a delusional kind of mindset. And I think it was just her belief system entirely was focused around what President Trump was saying."

She and her mother came to an impasse, she says, after the police killing of George Floyd in June 2020.

"When I had told her I would be going to Black Lives Matter protests … she told me that I wasn't allowed to go because she believed that Black Lives Matter was a violent organization and they were going to incite violence and that I would have been in harm's way," she said.

"I ended up going anyway. When she found out that I did so, she told me that I was unwelcome in the house if I were to do these things."

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Duke says she's been in contact with her mother just once, via text, since posting the tweet. She says her mom demanded she take her tweet down, and told her she was throwing her life away and putting her family in danger.

She continues to have support from her father's side of the family, she said. 

She says she would love to make amends one day, but for that to happen, her mom would have to admit what she did was wrong and get some help.

"I just feel as though she should be held accountable for her actions," Duke said. 

"I don't think she's in a correct mental state. And I just hope that she realizes what she did was wrong and seeks mental help as far as therapy or other resources goes. And I think after, if those things were to be done, there could be some patching up."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. 

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