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A Mass. teen reportedly spotted her family at a MAGA event prior to the Capitol riot. She decided to call them out

‘Keep your beliefs strong,’ 18-year-old Helena Duke told Teen Vogue

Demonstrators swarmed the US Capitol building during a protest in Washington, D.C.
Demonstrators swarmed the US Capitol building during a protest in Washington, D.C.Eric Lee/Bloomberg

Donald Trump loyalists turned up in Washington in droves on Jan. 6 — including New England residents, some of whom traveled in buses from Massachusetts — to attend a rally in support of the president, who reiterated baseless election fraud claims and incited a riot that would turn deadly.

Hundreds of primarily white Trump backers — from small business owners to local politicians — soon after descended on the US Capitol in an aggressive mob, breaking through barriers, assaulting police officers, and sending elected officials into hiding out of fear for their lives.

The night before the insurrection — in a video that quickly went viral on Twitter, racking up millions of views — a Black woman who was working as a security guard is shown surrounded on the Black Lives Matter Plaza by a number of Trump supporters.

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A white woman appears to launch at the guard in the clip, who then punches her in the face in return. The guard is quickly mobbed and dragged by the cuff of her jacket by a trio of white men, who appear to forcefully shove her into the arms of nearby police officers, where chaos ensues.

The clip caught the attention of 18-year-old Helena Duke, a Massachusetts high schooler. Retweeting the video, Duke identified the white woman who was left with a bloodied nose as her mother.

“[H]i mom remember the time you told me I shouldn’t go to BLM protests [because] they could get violent [...] this you?” she wrote.

In an interview with Teen Vogue that was published on Monday, Duke said the video of her mother allegedly harassing the security guard, who then struck her in the face, was first sent to Duke by her cousin.

“I was in disbelief and it felt very surreal that she was actually there and the woman in that viral video was my mother,” Duke told the outlet. “It was very overwhelming.”

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A day after the Capitol siege, Duke continued to call out members of her family for their participation in the day’s dark events on social media.

“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,” Duke said.

She identified her mother as Therese Duke, her uncle as Richard Lorenz, and her aunt as Annie Lorenz. The Globe has not independently verified the individuals named.

Duke was motivated to send the tweet because, during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, she was told by her mother that she was not “allowed to go because she believed BLM was a violent organization.”

“[T]he fact that she ended up going to [what became a] violent storming of the Capitol, harassing a woman and getting punched in the face, but when I went to peaceful protests, nothing happened to me,” Duke told Teen Vogue.

A LinkedIn profile for Therese Duke says that she is an employee of UMass Memorial Medical Center, which Helena Duke confirmed when asked on Twitter.

After Duke identified her mother by name, UMass Memorial Health Care issued a statement on Twitter the following day that said it was investigating whether “one or more” of its employees was involved in the insurrection.

“We have been made aware that one or more of our employees may have been involved in the violence that took place at our nation’s Capitol,” the company said. “We strongly condemn such behavior if true and have initiated an investigation.”

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The company on Friday said a caregiver “who may have been involved” in the violence at the nation’s capital was no longer part of the organization. UMass Memorial said it had received “numerous expressions of concern through social media” about the employee, who was not identified directly.

A day after the attack on the Capitol, US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling said in a statement that anyone who traveled to Washington with the intent of joining the riot will face criminal charges.

When Duke found out about the violence that erupted — and the harm caused — she said she felt it reinforced that “there is a very serious racial inequality problem in our justice system.”

“The extreme police brutality we have seen, especially [over the past] year towards [Black] people, while these predominantly white people have pictures and videos of them being escorted peacefully out by the police officers — I think the fact that there is this double standard is so obvious,” Duke said to Teen Vogue.

President-elect Joe Biden called attention to the stark contrast himself, highlighting how Black Lives Matter protestors were treated by police over the summer — tear-gassed, shot with rubber bullets, and beaten — versus the kid-glove treatment the primarily white insurrectionists received.

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“You can’t tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesters yesterday they wouldn’t have been treated very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol,” Biden said in Wilmington.

He added: “We all know that is true. And it is totally unacceptable. Totally unacceptable. The American people saw it in plain view.”

In a GoFundMe post, the guard — who has since identified herself as 28-year-old Ashanti Smith — said she was “assaulted, attacked, and harassed” by the group and “feared for [her] life.”

Smith said she organized the fundraiser, which had raised more than $115,000 as of Wednesday morning, because she is now facing criminal charges and was relieved from her employment “pending an investigation.”

The video that was widely circulated, Smith said, made her look like she was the aggressor, “but it does not show what happened prior.”

“People shoved me, tried to take my phone and keys, yelled racial epithets at me, and tried to remove my mask,” Smith said. “I asked them to social distance and stay out of my personal space due to COVID-19. They refused, and I was afraid of being hurt and harmed. After being assaulted, I defended myself.”

In a new video uploaded on Twitter Sunday, those Duke identified as her family members — all maskless — appear to be trailing after Smith while shouting in her face and pointing their finger in her direction. Another unidentified man, also without a protective face covering on, is shown repeatedly shouting at Smith.

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The “harassment,” Duke said in a tweet Monday, “is blatantly obvious in this video.”

“If anyone has Ashanti’s contact info I really want to reach out to her,” Duke said.

Duke said the response to her viral tweet “has been really heartwarming,” and that the backlash from Trump supporters has “been very minimal.”

“The number of people who have been able to relate to this situation is insane,” she told Teen Vogue.

When asked what advice she would give to other youth in a similar position — those who have clashing beliefs with their parents — Duke said to “keep your beliefs strong.”

“A lot of parents do raise their kids to be strong and independent, and from my personal experience, once you are strong and independent and know you are, parents are like, ‘That’s not what I wanted; that’s not who I wanted you to be.’ And when you’re not who they wanted you to be, they take back what they taught you and don’t know how to accept you any longer,” Duke said.

She concluded: “It’s very disheartening, but the ability to stay strong and stay true to who you are is insanely important and will carry us. This generation will change the world if we stay this way.”



Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.