A nonprofit nature reserve near the U.S.-Mexico border unwittingly became the subject of conservative conspiracy theories and political conflict after having been locked in a years-long legal battle with the Trump administration and the We Build The Wall foundation regarding a planned border wall.
Trump supporters targeted the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, which pushed back against Trump administration efforts to erect sections of a U.S.-Mexico border wall near its 100-acre nature preserve. Now the center has announced that it’s closing its doors “for the immediate future” after ongoing harassment directed at employees and the center itself from Trump’s fanbase.
The butterfly center first sued the Trump administration in 2017 on environmental grounds, arguing that proposed border wall construction would destroy crucial habitats for butterflies and birds, and even block migration routes for species that fly lower to the ground. The center alleges that workers began work surveying their land and cutting down trees on their property without permission and later sued We Build the Wall, a nonprofit led by Steve Bannon that raised more than $25 million with online fundraisers. The lawsuit accuses the organization and its founder, Brian Kolfage, of defaming the butterfly center and opening them up to “targeted harassment,” among other allegations about its efforts to construct the wall in Texas near the nature preserve. Kolfage, Bannon, and several others were indicted in August 2020 for using We Build the Wall donations for personal expenses.
Heartbreaking news today: The National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, will close for "the immediate future." In an official statement released today by Dr. Jeffrey Glassberg, founder of the center. https://t.co/LjxVEpbtWV
— Melissa del Bosque (@MelissaLaLinea) February 2, 2022
The sanctuary closed from last Friday to Sunday for the duration of the “We Stand America” border security rally nearby, headlined by QAnon conspiracy theorists and supporters of Donald Trump. National Butterfly Center Director Marianna Treviño-Wright told the HuffPost that she received a warning from an acquaintance involved with Republican politics to be “armed at all times or out of town” during the rally because she and the park would be a target for its attendees.
We regret to announce National Butterfly Center will be closed to the public for the immediate future. This difficult decision was made by the board of directors of the North American Butterfly Association, in the wake of recent events targeting the us. https://t.co/iClqVvrz88
— National Butterfly (@NatButterflies) February 2, 2022
The park reopened on Monday and Tuesday to members only, but will now be closed to both members and the rest of the public amid ongoing fears for the safety of its staff and patrons. “The board’s paramount concern is the safety of staff, members, and visitors,” said Ms. Treviño-Wright. “So for that reason, they have made the decision to close the center for the immediate future while they seek expert advice and formulate a plan that will best serve our interests and public safety moving forward.”
The National Butterfly Center had to close down for the weekend because QAnon is full of fucking idiots. They think the NBC is full of sex and drug trafficking. The *butterfly* center. I guess they’re flying really tiny amounts of cocaine and really tiny Mexicans over the border?
— Kelly D (@bugdog) February 2, 2022
Following news reports about the butterfly center’s decision to shut down for the weekend, several attendees of the We Stand America event shot and posted footage near the National Butterfly Center’s sign. A Republican congressional candidate from South Carolina, Lynz Piper-Loomis, posted a video of herself and Women Fighting for America founder Christie Hutcherson near the sign, saying they could see no evidence of a “threat” against the center, because they seemed to suggest the perceived threat was against the butterflies, not the people at the park. A week prior to the rally, a right-wing congressional candidate from Virginia, Kimberly Lowe, had visited the center, shooting videos for social media and accusing staff of being “OK with children being trafficked and raped.”
The National Butterfly Center in McAllen, Texas, is closing after being inundated with threats from QAnon believers who claim it is part of a secret international sex trafficking ring 🤦♂️ https://t.co/gzLsDApMOB
— Mikael Thalen (@MikaelThalen) January 27, 2022
“We need to protect the butterflies. I agree with that. So Biden, why don’t you build the wall to protect the butterflies?” asked Hutcherson, who attended the Jan. 6, 2021 rally that preceded the Capitol riot and is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a far-right religious zealot” who participates in border vigilante activities. “Why are you more concerned about butterflies, than you are [about] little children who are being trafficked?” she added, claiming that human traffickers “use the butterfly land.”
Who would threaten the National Butterfly Center to the point that they may have to shut down?
Oh yeah. Those.
Never forget Jan 6, 2021 pic.twitter.com/ybpkMK0Ncm
— Mary David-Snow (My bunnies think I'm funny) (@sweetiepiesnow) February 2, 2022
According to the statement released on Wednesday, the Butterfly Center is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Rio Grande Valley. It hosts more than 35,000 unique visitors and over 6,000 school children each year, to share environmental education and conservation efforts related to the critical contributions wild, free-flying butterflies make to healthy ecosystems and a sustainable planet. It is home to the annual Texas Butterfly Festival, “a spectacular event during the peak of butterfly season that draws participants from around the world”.