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Border & Immigration

National Butterfly Center closes indefinitely following threats from right-wing conspiracy theorists

National Butterfly Center during weekend closure taken January 29, 2022
Carolina Cuellar
/
Texas Public Radio
The National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas after it closed due to credible security threats from a nearby right-wing border security rally.

This story was updated at 5pm CST Wednesday February 2, 2022.

The National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas will extend its closure to the "immediate future," due to concerns over staff and visitor safety. This follows credible security threats targeting the center, one of which recently came from a border security rally called “We Stand America."

The event, which happened this past weekend, was a midterm election rally featuring speakers on border security and “the direct connection to election integrity from a biblical worldview” hosted by Donald Trump’s former National Security Advisor, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

The Center’s executive director, Mаriаnnа Trevino-Wright, initially made the decision to keep the nature preserve closed during the rally after she and her staff were allegedly physically attacked there last week by congressional candidate Kimberly Lowe and an aide.

Lowe is a Republican congressional candidate from Virginia and was originally set to attend the We Stand American rally. Trevino-Wright explained how Lowe attempted to witness migrant crossings at the butterfly center.

“I was on a conference call… halfway through the call… my son, Nicholas Allen Wright, interrupted me to say we had two female visitors enter who did not want to pay admission,” said Trevino-Wright on an affidavit filed in Hidalgo County. “(They) wanted us to open up the gate for them to access the back 70 acres of the property, so they could go see ‘illegals crossing on rafts.’”

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Trevino-Wright quickly reviewed Lowe’s social media accounts and determined the women were there with the intention to trespass into closed areas of the nature preserve and broadcast information for which the conservancy has already received threats and harassment over the past several years.

“I’m federal. I work for the Secret Service, so nothing is off limits for me,” said Lowe’s aide, referred to as Michelle in the video, as the two women resisted leaving the Center.

A physical altercation followed in which Wright was thrown to the ground and Lowe and her aide attempted to leave the property in their vehicle with Wright’s mobile phone.

According to the affidavit, Trevino-Wright’s son attempted to close a gate in order to prevent Lowe and her aide from leaving the property with Wright’s mobile at which point “Lowe nearly struck him with her car, but in the now-deleted Facebook Live by Lowe, you can hear her screaming, ‘Get the fuck out of my way,’ as she speeds toward him and see she swerves to avoid the partially-closed gate.”

We Stand America has since banned Lowe from the event. Lowe’s office has deleted most of the Facebook videos from the candidate’s trip to the Butterfly Center.

After the incident, Wright said she was told by a former state official to “be armed at all times or out of town this weekend” during the We Stand America event, which includes a caravan to the border with a possible stop at the center.

RELATED: The Reality At The Border: Butterflies And The Border Wall

Wright says harassment at the Center has been ongoing since 2019, when the nature conservancy filed suit against the fundraising nonprofit We Build The Wall. That nonprofit’s leadership includes Brian Kolfage and Stephen Bannon among others who have since been charged by the Department of Justice for defrauding donors.

The Butterfly Center’s lawsuit against Kolfage, now in federal court, alleges that any private border wall built downstream of the property would be in violation of a 1970 international boundary treaty with Mexico as well as result in land loss and erosion on the nature preserve.

The legal action has made both The National Butterfly Center and Mаriаnnа Trevino-Wright targets of far-right conspiracy theorists ever since–including those in the QAnon movement.

Kolfage himself repeatedly tweeted that the Center was harboring an illegal sex trade and dead bodies in response to the suit in 2019.

Since then, militia groups like the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters have visited the Center in order to make threats against Trevino-Wright and her staff. Trevino-Wright plans to press charges against Lowe.

The National Butterfly Center is shut down from Jan. 28 through Jan. 30.

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