Helena Duke, 18, thought it was odd when her mom shut off her location on a phone-tracking app that they share earlier this week. Her mom, Therese Duke, had told her vaguely that she was taking Helena’s aunt for a procedure. But Helena suspected that her Trump-supporting mom may have secretly traveled to Washington, DC, for the delusional last-ditch "Stop the Steal" rally.
On Thursday morning, Helena's cousin had sent her a viral video of a physical encounter on the streets of DC filmed Tuesday, the night before the Capitol was raided.
Watching the clip, Helena identified her mom, her aunt Annie Lorenz, and her uncle Richard Lorenz as part of a group of white people confronting a Black woman who had hit Therese in the face after she had tried to grab her.
"My initial reaction was more like, Oh my gosh, I was right. I was actually right about them being there," Helena told BuzzFeed News. "It was very surreal because it was an insane video, first of all, and then it was the revelation that, Oh, that’s my mother. That’s her."
The Black woman in the video had tweeted that a group of five people were harassing her for a long time and had tried to take her belongings from her hands and her pockets. (She declined to comment on the incident to BuzzFeed News without legal representation. Helena's family members did not respond to emails and calls requesting comment.)
Stunned to see her mom, Helena decided to tweet about the video and identified her family members as the people in it. "hi mom remember the time you told me I shouldn't go to BLM protests bc they could get violent...this you?" she wrote.
Helena's viral tweets have hit a nerve with many other Americans who have become distanced from loved ones in the Trump era due to them changing politics or becoming caught up in the QAnon mass delusion.
"Before President Trump was elected, she was a Democrat for the majority of her life," Helena said. "And then, I don't know what happened. Something switched in her brain, and she went through a very dramatic change to very far right."
She said she's received a lot of direct messages from people sharing similar experiences.
"I think it kind of makes me feel better knowing other people have gone through the same thing," she said. "I obviously feel very sad that they have to go through it, too, but that I'm not alone, and that they’re not alone."
The unrest and violence at the Capitol on Wednesday has driven a deeper wedge into already strained relationships between Trump supporters and those around them.
Many have spoken out about arguing with loved ones who blame antifa for the violence (the FBI has said there is no evidence that anti-fascist activists played any role). People who had family members at the Capitol have talked about their anger and disappointment.
Robyn Sweet, a woman whose dad stormed the Capitol with a mob and was arrested, told BuzzFeed News previously, "I am completely ashamed and disgusted of him."
It's unclear if Helena's family members were at the Capitol on Wednesday, when thousands of Trump supporters incited by him descended on the building to try to overturn the election that he lost. Five people died as a result of the attempted coup, including a woman who was shot in the neck by Capitol Police, three people who died of medical emergencies, and a Capitol Police officer who was injured while on duty.
In a screenshot of text messages reviewed by BuzzFeed News, Helena asked her mom where she was on Wednesday night but did not get a response.
The next day, after Therese texted saying she was home, Helena simply responded, "how's your nose."
"Please call me or talk to me if you really wanna know," her mom wrote.
Her mom and aunt — whom she said she was close to until their relationship broke down in recent years — have sent her pleas and threats to remove her tweets.
"We are not proud of how things went in DC," Annie said in a text reviewed by BuzzFeed News. "I know you are upset but putting us in danger isn't going to solve anything. Please ... I am Begging you to remove."
"I honestly don't think I did anything wrong in this situation," Helena said.
Helena said she is upset at her family members' actions and her mom's hypocrisy. She added that when her mother discovered last year that she'd participated in a Black Lives Matter march, she told her she was no longer welcome in the home.
"She told me she thought Black Lives Matter was a violent organization and they would be inciting violence," she recalled.
"I always felt almost heartbroken over how they viewed the world and how skewed it was and how they wouldn't allow me to express my views. But showing that they can act in such a horrible way is just really appalling to me," she said. "I am honestly very disappointed to have to be part of this family that is so...just, very not welcoming or supportive. I don’t feel safe being part of this family."