Two weeks ago, Helena Duke says, her mom Therese told her that she was going out of town to take her aunt to have a procedure done. She was somewhat vague about the procedure in question, but Helena didn’t think much of it, simply because she “didn’t have much other information,” she tells Rolling Stone.
Then, last week, one of Helena’s coworkers at a YMCA child care center in central Massachusetts told her that pro-Trump insurrectionists at a Stop the Steal rally in Washington, D.C. had stormed the Capitol. Out of curiosity, Helena says, she looked at her mom’s location sharing on Life360, an app for family members to share their location. Therese had turned her location off. Helena says she knew her mother, a Trump supporter, had previously discussed her desire to attend a pro-Trump rally. “I was like, maybe she’s at the capitol, that would be crazy,” she says. “Then the next morning my cousin sent me the video.”
The video in question was a viral clip of Therese, taken on January 5th. That day, pro-Trump protesters from across the country had descended on the city, and that evening they took to the streets. Outside the Freedom Plaza in D.C. that night, Therese and several other people are seen pursuing a black woman, who appears to be an officer from a civil disturbance unit. Therese grabs at the woman’s phone, then the woman punches her in the face. Helena’s aunt and uncle, Richard and Anne Lorenz, were also present in the video, and Anne is then seen punching the black woman in the face. (Helena’s cousin also confirmed the identities of those in the video.) Another clip taken after the incident shows Therese talking about the assault with a bloodied face.
Both the woman, Ashanti Smith, and Lorenz have been charged with assault, according to court documents. (Though it’s unclear which agency Smith works for, the charging documents for Lorenz list Smith as a law-enforcement officer.) In a GoFundMe raising funds for her legal defense, Smith claims the Trump supporters on the Plaza were harassing her, though she does not mention Lorenz and Therese by name. It is not clear whether Lorenz and Therese were present at the insurrection at the capitol the following day. (Therese Duke and the Lorenzes did not return requests for comment via LinkedIn and email, respectively.)
Helena says seeing her mother in the video was “surreal,” but not necessarily surprising. Therese, Helena says, had a history of expressing pro-Trump views, and Helena claims she had kicked her out of the house months ago for having participated in the Black Lives Matter protests, referring to it as a “violent” movement. “I knew her beliefs and the way she acts,” Helena says. “But I didn’t think she’d stoop this low. It definitely was a realization to me that she’s come to that point in her life.”
That realization drove Helena, 18, to take action against her mother in a stunningly public way. She posted a screengrab of the video on her Twitter, accompanied by the following text: “hi mom remember the time you told me I shouldn’t go to BLM protests bc they could get violent…this you?” She then tweeted her mother’s name, as well as the names of her aunt and uncle, sharing family photos as proof. “Hi this is the liberal lesbian of the family who has been kicked out multiple times for her views and for going to BLM protests to care what happens to me,” she tweeted.
hi mom remember the time you told me I shouldn’t go to BLM protests bc they could get violent…this you? https://t.co/9ZkbAq0ehO
— Helena Duke (@duke_helena) January 7, 2021
Duke’s tweet garnered nearly 80,000 retweets and more than 410,000 likes. It struck a chord with many on social media, including those whose relatives had also been radicalized over the past few years of the Trump administration. Though she says the feedback was overwhelmingly supportive, she did receive a handful of threats from people who’d accused her of betraying her mother for clout, a charge she steadfastly denies. “I don’t think I was betraying her in any sense,” she says. “I was treating her the way she treats me.”
Therese Duke, however, who had already lost her job as a result of being identified as the woman in the video, did not see it that way. In texts sent to Helena sent after her tweet went viral, which Helena shared with Rolling Stone, Therese accused her of putting her family at risk, including Helena’s younger sister, who still lives with Therese. “I thought it was very inappropriate of her to say my sister would somehow be threatened by my actions,” says Helena. “I think it’s more her actions who have put us at risk when she decided to go out there and harass this woman.”