PHARR, Texas (Border Report) — The National Butterfly Center has closed its doors indefinitely citing threats leading up to an ultra-conservative pro-border wall rally nearby last weekend that led to several disparaging remarks posted on social media about the nonprofit.
The center, a popular South Texas eco-tourism destination, had been temporarily closed Friday through Sunday, out of concern for the “We Stand America” rally, which drew hundreds to the Rio Grande Valley and was co-sponsored by Women Fighting for America, Latinos for Trump and other conservative organizations.
But on Monday and Tuesday, the front gate remained locked, with staff opening the facility only to those with memberships. By Tuesday evening, the North American Butterfly Association’s board of directors, which runs the facility, made the decision to shutter it to all and to send the staff home indefinitely “for the immediate future,” according to a letter sent to center members.
Executive Director Marianna Treviño-Wright said the National Butterfly Center won’t reopen until they can guarantee the safety of all staff and visitors.
The board “made the decision to close until they have engaged both the police and security professionals so that we have a plan and everything we need in place to open safely,” Treviño-Wright told Border Report on Thursday.
The initial decision to temporarily close came after a Jan. 21 altercation at the center in which Treviño-Wright said she was knocked down by a congressional candidate from Virginia who tried to access the center without paying and was live-streaming Treviño-Wright without permission on Facebook.
The woman, who Treviño-Wright has identified as Kimberly Lowe, was ultimately banned from attending a private VIP reception at the rally on Friday, according to a Facebook video Lowe posted in which she said she was “canceled by the event organizers.”
On Jan. 29, Lowe called Treviño-Wright the “crazy butterfly lady,” in a Facebook post, and she accused Treviño-Wright of assaulting her.
Treviño-Wright told Border Report she is filing charges against Lowe. And she said Mission Police have informed her the incident has been referred to the FBI.
However, Rosanne Hughes, FBI Public Affairs Officer, told Border Report: “In accordance with FBI/DOJ policy, we neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.”
Since the rally, numerous social media posts have mentioned the center, and Treviño-Wright said she fears that people are fear-mongering and riling up dissent toward the Butterfly Center, which is located in Mission, Texas, on the banks of the Rio Grande, overlooking Mexico.
“People came Sunday and posted videos full of provocative lies. Those are the same content creators and political operators involved in both the Wal-Athon that provoked the Walmart massacre (in El Paso) and the Stop the Steal rally that provoked violence on January 6 (in Washington, D.C.),” she told Border Report.
The Aug. 3, 2019, mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso left 23 people dead and 23 injured and investigators say was racially provoked.
Patrick Crusius, of Allen, Texas, is jailed on state and federal charges stemming from the shooting he allegedly carried out with an automatic rifle after posting an online manifesto decrying the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Treviño-Wright said she fears something of that magnitude, driven by hateful social media postings targeting the National Butterfly Center, could happen in the Rio Grande Valley.
“We are very much in the crosshairs of this organized campaign to incite violence against us,” she said.
Her nine full-time and two part-time employees currently are being paid and working from home, she said. Some are husking and cleaning seeds, cleaning tools and equipment, while others are taking care of exhibit animals and/or office paperwork.
We are very much in the crosshairs of this organized campaign to incite violence against us.”Marianna Treviño-Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center
Jeffrey Gordon, former president of the American Birding Association, told Border Report the comments made about the center are disheartening, and the closure is a loss to the eco-tourism world.
“This is terrible news. You hate to see the work of an organization, a place like that, be so affected,” Gordon said Thursday via phone from his home near Philadelphia. “It’s baseless conspiracy theories. And that’s the bitter irony of it: It’s not even real. This place is being targeted by conspiracy theorists and grifters.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.