Massachusetts woman punched in viral video before Capitol riot says ‘I did nothing wrong’

Her daughter disagrees.

Supporters of President Donald Trump rally at Freedom Plaza in Washington on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, where people are protesting the presidential election results. They came from around the country, with different affiliations — QAnon, Proud Boys, a few elected officials, many everyday Americans. One allegiance united them.(Kenny Holston/The New York Times)
Supporters of President Donald Trump rally at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Jan. 5, where people were protesting the presidential election results. –Kenny Holston / The New York Times

Therese Duke says she doesn’t deserve her newfound infamy.

The Massachusetts mother went to Washington, D.C., earlier this month to join the protests in support of President Donald Trump and his unfounded claims that the presidential election was stolen. And while she was reportedly not involved in the Jan. 6 breach of the Capitol Building, the Charlton resident found herself the subject of national attention after she was punched in the face during a skirmish the night before the riot, virally called out by her daughter, and lost her job at UMass Memorial Medical Center.

“I did nothing wrong,” Duke told the Boston Herald last week. “I was the one who was assaulted.”

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Footage of the incident shows Duke and her sister approaching and verbally heckling Ashanti Smith, a Black security guard who was videotaping the pro-Trump protest during her break. Seconds later, Duke reaches for Smith’s phone, leading Smith to turn and hit Duke in the face.

Smith was then escorted away from the middle of the crowd by demonstrators toward a group of police who were monitoring the gathering. Duke’s sister, Anne Lorenz, follows her and punches the 28-year-old twice in retribution, resulting in a breakout of pushing and shoving and police deploying pepper spray on the crowd.

According to the Herald, Lorenz was arrested and charged with assaulting a law enforcement officer, to which she pleaded not guilty.

Smith, who said she was fired from her job following the incident, was also reportedly arrested and charged with simple assault, and also pleaded not guilty, according to the Herald. Smith later told a D.C.-based radio station that Duke “kept trying to take my phone and take my mask off because I kept asking them to stay away from me, stop following me, and stop being so close in my personal area,” adding that people in the maskless crowd were calling her the N-word and accusing her of being Antifa, per the New York Post.

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However, it wasn’t until more than 24 hours after the skirmish that the incident went viral, when Duke’s daughter, Helena Duke, retweeted the footage on Jan. 7 with the message: “hi mom remember the time you told me I shouldn’t go to BLM protests bc they could get violent…this you?”

The tweet has been retweeted more than 83,000 times and received over 427,000 likes.

UMass Memorial subsequently released a statement that they had “numerous expressions of concern through social media regarding a UMass Memorial caregiver” and that the “employee in question is no longer a part of our organization.” Duke told the Herald she felt “forced” to resign from her job as a medical assistant at the Worcester hospital, a position she reportedly had for 15 years. She now worries she won’t be able to get another job.

“Anybody can Google me,” Duke told the Herald. “Nobody will hire me.”

Her daughter, however, apparently disagrees with Duke’s characterization that she is the victim. On Twitter, Helena wrote that the “harassment [of Smith] is blatantly obvious” in a longer video showing the moments before her mother was punched.

“Her saying she did absolutely nothing wrong is appalling to me,” Helena Duke told the Herald.

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