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Many were glued to their phones last Wednesday as thousands of Donald Trump supporters stormed the nation’s Capitol building in a violent mob. But for some, last week’s events hit even closer to home.
Eighteen-year-old Helena Duke was at work in Massachusetts on Wednesday when her cousin sent her a video of a woman engaged in a violent altercation in Washington, DC. In the video recorded Tuesday night—the day before the Capitol was stormed—a white woman with blonde hair is seen participating in a huge pro-Trump protest at Black Lives Matter plaza in Washington, D.C. At one point, the blonde woman appears to reach toward a Black police officer, and the officer then punches her in the face. Helena saw the video and knew immediately: the Trump supporter in that video who got punched? That was her mom.
Instead of keeping the news to herself, Helena chose to call out her mom and other relatives in the video on Twitter. Below, Helena reflects on that decision and recounts the distressing experience of seeing her family go viral in her own words.
I really didn’t have any idea that they were going to DC. The week before they went, my mom had told me she was taking my aunt to get a procedure done, which I assumed to be a medical procedure. It was really vague and I just didn’t think anything of it.
Until the day I saw the video.
My mom had actually been a Democrat her entire life. But when Trump was elected, something went into her brain, and she turned radically right. I’m not sure how it happened. She started watching Fox News, but then it got to the point where if Fox News said something that she didn’t believe, she would say that it was anti-Trump. Then, she moved onto a more radical news source like NewsMax—a very radical, ridiculous news source—that is not news at all. It’s more propaganda and it’s kind of scary.
She would say things to me around the house that struck me as crazy. And, for a while, I would just keep quiet and not say anything. I tried to ignore her for a long time until it hit a breaking point of her saying things that I found to be downright offensive. I began to argue back with her and at least try to have a respectful debate, but matters did not improve. Her terrifying transformation really lit a path inside of me and forced me to become more educated in politics. And I think that’s definitely what made me find my own views.
Then, last Thursday morning, my cousin sent me the video [of my mom participating in a pro-Trump rally at Black Lives Matter plaza—and getting punched in the face]. It was surreal and appalling. I couldn’t comprehend how someone could stoop so low as to associate herself with a crowd that had arrived in D.C. to seek to overturn the results of the election.
At that moment I was definitely prepared to share the video to my social media. Although the video doesn’t depict my mom engaging in any violent acts, the crowd was unruly, and I was troubled that she was among them. I saw nothing wrong with outing her. I decided it was the right thing to do; that my family members needed to be held accountable for their actions.
The following night, after the video had gone viral, my mom contacted me. She told me, “Hi honey, I love you where are you staying tonight?” apparently assuming that I would obviously not be home because she knew about my tweet. I didn’t respond at first because I was emotional. I asked her how her nose was and she didn’t take that too well. And then later that night, probably around 1 or 2 a.m., she and my aunt—who was also at the protest—started sending me threats and calling repeatedly. My mom texted me I was throwing away my life. My aunt told me over text to forget about college. Essentially, they conveyed to me that I’m ruining my life, and tried to put the blame on me.
Earlier this year, during the Black Lives Matter protests I attended, my mom told me Black Lives Matter protests were violent, and that I was going to get hurt. But I found them to be peaceful protests when I ended up going anyway. So seeing her participating in a pro-Trump rally intent on denying the election results—it was the breaking point. I couldn’t see how she could be so hypocritical to her own daughter.
As for what’s next for me: I’m a runner and am planning to run at University of San Diego next year. Unfortunately, I don’t have much support financially, but I’m in the process of figuring it all out.
I want to make it clear how unjust our American judicial system is at the moment, considering that a predominantly white group can storm the Capitol with little pushback from law enforcement, but a group of predominantly Black individuals can’t peacefully protest for their right to live without the riot gear coming out. That speaks volumes as to how insane our country is right now.
According to two affidavits filed in D.C. superior court, the police officer who is seen in the video punching Helena’s mother Therese has since been charged with assault; Helena’s aunt has been charged with assault on a police officer, according to affidavits. Both Helena’s aunt and the police officer have pleaded not guilty. Therese has not been charged with a crime, and it is unclear if either Helena’s mother or aunt were at or near the Capitol on January 6th. Both Helena’s mother and aunt declined to comment for this story.
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