QAnon Sex Trafficking Conspiracies Have Shut Down a Texas Butterfly Center

On Thursday, QAnon conspiracy theories about the National Butterfly Center became real-world threats.
A Red-bordered Pixie butterfly at the National Butterfly Center on January 16, 2019 in Mission. Texas. (SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images)
A Red-bordered Pixie butterfly at the National Butterfly Center on January 16, 2019 in Mission. Texas. (SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images)
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A QAnon conspiracy theory that a butterfly sanctuary on the southern border of the U.S. is being used for sex trafficking has led to the center closing “due to credible threats” against its staff.

The National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, is situated on the Rio Grande river less than half a mile from the U.S.-Mexico border, and has long been the focus of intense and completely baseless conspiracy theories pushed by the QAnon community.

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On Thursday, those theories became real-world threats and the center announced it was closing its doors for the weekend because of a MAGA-style conference taking place eight miles away in McAllen, Texas.

“We are writing to let you know the National Butterfly Center will be closed Friday, Jan. 28 - Sunday, Jan. 30, due to credible threats we have received from a former state official, regarding activities planned by the ‘We Stand America’ event this weekend,” the center’s staff wrote in an email.

The email went on to say that the former official had suggested the center’s director, Marianna Wright, should “be armed at all times or out of town this weekend because the ‘We Stand America’ events include a ‘Trump Train’-style, “caravan to the border” and that the National Butterfly Center would likely be a stop on this ‘take action tour.’”

The “We Stand America” event is being organized by a number of pro-Trump groups, including Women Fighting for America, Veterans for America First, and Latinos for Trump. The event is being headlined by Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, along with a number of QAnon influencers like Ann Vandersteel, Mel K, and Doug Billings as well as Mark Finchem, the QAnon-supporting Arizona lawmaker who’s running for secretary of state.

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“The event will focus on border law enforcement and the direct connection to election integrity from a Biblical worldview,” according to the conference’s website, which says the “rolling car protest on the border” will take place on Sunday.

The butterfly center has been a focus of pro-Trump groups for years, because it refused to make way for Trump’s border wall, which is still under construction on federally owned land just south of the center, the Daily Dot reported.

The plan initially called for Trump’s wall to be built right through the center’s 100-acre sanctuary, but in 2020 a federal appeals court in Texas ruled that the work violated the center’s property rights. And it was the center’s refusal to make way for the border wall that has led to online conspiracy theories about its role in supposed child sex trafficking. But last week, those theories lead to a real world incident involving Wright.

“A congressional candidate from Virginia appeared [at the center] with a friend, who claimed to be a Secret Service agent, and demanded access to the river so they could ‘see the rafts with the illegal crossing’ our property,” the center’s email to members reported. 

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While the email didn’t identify the candidate, Wright told the Daily Beast that it was long-shot candidate Kimberly Lowe, who broadcast live videos of her trip to the border and to the butterfly center on her Facebook page, though most of them are now deleted.

A doctored image, seen below, has been shared online claiming to show an inflatable raft at the Butterfly Center’s dock. Conspiracy theorists claim rafts have been used to traffic children from Mexico.

National Butterfly Center

“When asked to leave, the [congressional candidate and her friend] attempted to film Marianna, while reiterating the malicious and defamatory lies of Steve Bannon and Brian Kolfage, whose concerted, public attacks against the North American Butterfly Association, the National Butterfly Center, and our director, Marianna, remain the subject of the lawsuit we have brought against their ‘dark money’ fundraising organization, We Build the Wall.”

But that wasn’t the end of the incident. 

According to the email, the candidate grabbed Wright’s phone and fled the scene. Wright’s son Nick, who was working at the center, allegedly tried to close the gate to prevent the candidate and her accomplice from leaving with the phone, according to the email, before he was allegedly almost run over.

In the now-deleted Facebook videos, reviewed by the Daily Beast, Lowe and the women with her are seen shoving Wright to the ground. “Get the fuck down, bitch,” one woman shouts.

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Neither the Butterfly Center, Wright or Lowe immediately responded to VICE News requests for comment on the incident. 

Lowe, however, told the Daily Beast that she was the one who had been attacked.

“In short this woman verbally and physically assaulted us, stole my phone, kidnapped us, and tried to keep us from leaving, and filed a false police report which the police have already found to be untrue and when she couldn’t get me on anything because this is purely a political attack she is now making up more stories saying I tried to hit her son when he ran to the gate to lock us in and blocked the exit with his arms out. I did not try to hit him!”

Wright called 911, but he said it took the police department in Mission over an hour to respond. The entire incident was captured on security cameras, but the police department in Mission did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment on whether it will press charges.

The Secret Service has not responded to VICE News’ request for comment about someone allegedly impersonating one of their agents, after Wright said she informed them of the incident.

Much of the anger directed toward the Butterfly Center has come from Kolfage, who is the head of a multimillion-dollar fundraising effort to privately build Trump’s border wall. He has repeatedly spread false rumors about the center, including claims that he observed butterflies swarming around dead bodies at the center.

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He has also directed violent threats against Wright on social media.

Kolfage, who worked closely with Bannon on the We Build the Wall scam, was indicted last year for wire fraud and tax evasion.

While Kolfage is not scheduled to speak at the three-day event in McAllen this weekend, the vitriol and anger he has stoked in the MAGA and QAnon communities toward the National Butterfly Center has forced it to close down and put its employees at risk of serious attack.

 “We still cannot believe we are at the center of this maelstrom of malevolence rising in the United States,” the center’s email concluded.

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