For most, the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, is a gathering place for nature lovers. For a group of QAnon conspiracy theorists, it's a site rife with human trafficking—a debunked suspicion that has led to so much harassment and threats that the sanctuary has now announced it's closing for the "immediate future," reports NPR. In a Wednesday Facebook post, the nonprofit noted the "difficult decision" to shutter had been made late Tuesday "in the wake of recent events targeting the center." It notes there's not yet a clear reopening date, as it awaits guidance from "the authorities and professionals who are helping us navigate this situation."
The trouble seems to have started back in 2019, when Brian Kolfage—a supporter of former President Trump who was indicted on charges of misappropriating funds from donors who gave money to build Trump's US-Mexico border wall—posted a tweet that accused the sanctuary's director, Marianna Trevino Wright, of human trafficking, per the Texas Tribune. Trevino Wright believes the butterfly center ended up on the conspiracy theorists' radar in the first place due to a lawsuit it filed in 2017 to keep Trump's wall from being built on its property.
The sanctuary sued Kolfage and his group for defamation over the tweet, and that kicked off a long wave of threats and harassment, leading up to a Jan. 21 incident in which Kimberly Lowe, a right-wing congressional candidate from Virginia, showed up at the center and demanded to see "all the illegals crossing on the raft" on the Rio Grande next to the property. Trevino Wright says that when she asked Lowe to leave, Lowe tackled her then tried to run over her son with her car. In a statement to the Washington Post, Lowe concedes she visited the center "to see what is happening at the border," but she denies knocking Trevino Wright down and says she "safely drove around" Trevino Wright's son.
Before this longer-term shutdown, the butterfly center closed its doors for three days at the end of January, "due to credible threats" that it might be a target of a nearby border security rally. "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," Jeffrey Glassberg, the founder of the center's parent, the North American Butterfly Association, tells the Tribune. The center's employees will continue to receive a paycheck during the closure, per an association release. (Read more butterfly stories.)