The National Butterfly Center, a target for right-wing conspiracy theories situated along the U.S.-Mexico border, is shutting down for the “immediate future” after a fringe border wall rally brought a weekend of unwanted attention to the wildlife sanctuary.
“There’s just been an awful lot of right-wing hate being spewed by individuals and groups making videos and posting it online, creating a dangerous situation,” Jeffrey Glassberg, the president and founder of the North American Butterfly Association, told TPM over the phone Wednesday.
“That’s the kind of stuff that happened before other horrible events that we all know about. You learn from the last couple of years that these things are very serious. People die.”
NABA owns and operates the National Butterfly Center, which is located along the Rio Grande in Mission, Texas. Glassberg said the NABA board vote to temporarily close the center was unanimous.
The Butterfly Center closed temporarily over the weekend in light of the “We Stand America” event in Mission, which featured prominent right-wingers including Michael Flynn, the Trump pardon recipient and former national security advisor who in recent years has aligned himself with the QAnon conspiracy theory movement.
Fringe conservative influencers have for years spread conspiracy theories alleging that the Butterfly Center is a waypoint for human traffickers after the center pursued legal battles to prevent the building of segments of border wall on and near its property.
One would-be attendee of the We Stand America event, Virginia congressional candidate Kimberly Lowe, was involved in a physical altercation with the director of the Butterfly Center, Marianna Treviño Wright, last month. She was set to participate in a high-dollar border tour with Flynn, but told TPM that event organizers barred her from attending the event at the last minute.
Over the weekend, multiple right-wingers — including the congressional candidate Lynz Piper-Loomis and the “Real America’s Voice” correspondent Ben Bergquam — filmed videos on the edge of the Butterfly Center’s property, making light of the Butterfly Center’s concerns while posing with a child’s shoes and implying that the center was a stop for human traffickers.
“Why are you more concerned about butterflies than you are the little children that are being trafficked right behind this center?” Christie Hutcherson, one of the We Stand America event organizers, said in Piper-Loomis’ video.
Treviño Wright, the executive director of the Butterfly Center, has noted that the August 2019 mass shooting at a WalMart in El Paso, Texas, took place just a few days after an event nearby featuring Donald Trump Jr. and others. That event was hosted by the group “We Build The Wall,” the private border wall building effort whose leaders were subsequently charged federally for allegedly misleading donors.
The man charged in the El Paso shooting wrote in a manifesto that he was “defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion,” a reference to the racist “great replacement” theory that is increasingly a mainstream GOP talking point.
“Pizzagate, the Walmart Massacre, Jan. 6 — really, do we want to be next?” Trevino Wright told TPM Wednesday. “And that is exactly what these people are attempting to incite. It is their track record. This is not a matter of fear, this is a matter of common sense.”
“These people are basically insane, like Pizzagate,” Glassberg said. “People were trafficking babies at this pizza parlor? How any sane human being can possibly believe this stuff is beyond belief. You have to be literally insane, and clearly they are.”
The NABA founder said the dozen employees at the Butterfly Centers would continue to be paid during the shutdown, and that the center would reopen after NABA could ensure staff and visitors’ safety.