For four years, Helena Duke, an 18-year-old high school student from Massachusetts, had distanced herself from her mother because of their political views. She demonstrated for racial justice to her mother’s obvious disapproval, she said. All the while, his mother, a longtime Democrat, has become increasingly supportive of President Trump.
Then last week, a cousin of Ms Duke sent her a music video that had gone viral on social media. A black woman is seen amid a crowd of Trump supporters in Washington, DC; a white woman swings her hand on the face of the black woman, the black woman hits her back; then the crowd angrily confronts the black woman.
Ms Duke immediately recognized the people in the center of the scene: her uncle, aunt and mother, who was the one who was beaten. Her mother had never told her she was going to Washington, she said. Mrs. Duke found it all infuriating.
“I remember seeing the FBI tweets saying that anyone who knows anything about the people who were on Capitol Hill or anything like that put their name there,” she said. “After a lot of thinking, I thought it was really the right thing to do.”
Thus, in a message addressed to the “100 or 200” Twitter followers that she had at the time, she wrote: “Hi Mom, remember the time you told me I shouldn’t go to the BLM protests because they might get violent … is that you?” and retweeted the video clip. In a follow-up, she added, “She’s the liberal lesbian in the family who has been kicked out multiple times for her opinions,” and listed her mother, uncle and aunt by name.
In the days following the first tweet, which has been shared over 80,000 times, Ms Duke has achieved some degree of stardom, raising thousands of dollars in a fundraiser for her tuition and listening to strangers across the country who feel alienated from their family members over politics.
What she hasn’t done much is talking, beyond a few short texts, to her mother. Now living with her father, Ms Duke said even a short trip to collect clothes from her mother’s home over the weekend involved a police escort. She’s not sure what her mother did in Washington, although her aunt’s name appears on a list of unrest-related arrests by DC police charged with simple assault. Neither Ms Duke’s mother nor her aunt responded to messages seeking comment.
“It was difficult for me, and I felt very, tremendously guilty for doing it at one point,” Ms. Duke said of posting the tweets. But she said some of her cousins told her they supported her. “I really don’t think I did anything wrong,” she said. “They should be held accountable.”