South Texas butterfly sanctuary closes indefinitely due to QAnon conspiracies, escalating threats

National Butterfly Center
(Image credit: Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images)

The National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, closed indefinitely on Wednesday after years of wild QAnon conspiracy theories and mounting threats of violence, including a physical altercation last week with a Republican congressional candidate from Virginia demanding "to see all the illegals crossing on the raft," The Texas Tribune reports.

On any given day, hundreds of species of butterflies travel through the 20-year-old nonprofit sanctuary, the Houston Chronicle reports. "Birders from across the country visit the refuge to observe and photograph birds unique to the Rio Grande Valley, and thousands of local schoolchildren take field trips to the center each year."

In 2017, the National Butterfly Center sued the Trump administration to block construction of a border wall through its property. Two years later, "We Build the Wall" chief Brian Kolfage posted doctored photos of the butterfly sanctuary's dock, claiming it was being used for migrant transport and human trafficking. (Kolfage was later indicted for allegedly misusing funds for his nearby crowdfunded border wall.)

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Right-wing conspiracists have been falsely claiming the National Butterfly Center is involved in sex trafficking and other crimes since 2019, and executive director Marianna Treviño-Wright has been getting threats. Former Texas state Rep. Aaron Peña (R) told her before last weekend's "We Stand America" border security rally in neighboring McAllen that she could be a target and should "be armed at all times or out of town," the Tribune reports.

The Virginia congressional candidate, Kimberly Lowe, arrived at the center on Jan. 21 and demanded river access, accusing Treviño-Wright of permitting "children being sex trafficked and raped and murdered," the Chronicle reports. After Treviño-Wright told Lowe to leave, Lowe tackled her, Treviño-Wright says.

Lowe disputes Treviño-Wright's account of events, but after news of the altercation spread, "We Stand America" banned her from the McAllen event. Lowe said she spent $2,500 for a "diamond VIP" ticket that would have included a private border tour with featured guests Michael Flynn, a QAnon favorite, and former acting ICE chief Thomas Homan. "I can't believe that the people who are supposed to be on my side of the aisle canceled me," Lowe told the Chronicle.

Jeffrey Glassberg, founder of the butterfly sanctuary's parent organization, the North American Butterfly Association, told the Tribune "it's incredibly distressing that the United States has come to the point where a really significant part of the public is just no longer tethered to reality."

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