Right-wing conspiracy theorists have already decided that pizza, furniture, and pictures of corn are all part of the vast secret and silent war between good and evil. So moving on to claiming that butterflies are part of the deep state isn’t a surprise. But a bizarre and still unfolding incident at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas isn’t just proof that conspiracy theorists see patterns in noise, but that social media hysteria and anti-immigrant sentiment can combine for terrible and violent results.
The National Butterfly Center, located less than a half-mile from the U.S.-Mexico border, is a battlefield in the conflict over President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, which is still being built through federally protected land just south of the Center. But this week, the conflict took a distinctly more conspiratorial—and disturbing—tone when, according to an email blast put out by the Center, it was forced to close for three days “due to credible threats we have received from a former state official.”
Center director Marianna Wright “was advised by [a] former state official (whose daughter is the Hidalgo County GOP chairperson) that she should be armed at all times or out of town this weekend,” due to a caravan of attendees at a MAGA-themed border security conference taking place in McAllen, Texas, eight miles away, that same weekend. The “We Stand America” event is scheduled to feature speeches from a host of luminaries in the stolen election/QAnon/anti-vaccine/MAGA universe/build-the-wall universe, including disgraced former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, “Stop the Steal” advocate Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Ariz.), stolen election figurehead Patrick Byrne, and QAnon promoter Mel K.
The email from the Center makes it clear that the grounds themselves are in direct danger from conference attendees who intend to form a “rolling car protest,” described as a ’Trump Train’-style “caravan to the border” that will likely make a stop at the National Butterfly Center. The Center’s location just minutes away from the Rio Grande has made it a hotbed of conspiracy theories and rumors, which claim it’s a hub of drug smuggling and human trafficking. Many of these rumors are pushed by Brian Kolfage, the leader of an eight-figure fundraising effort to privately build Trump’s border wall
Kolfage, who has called the Center’s employees “butterfly freaks” running a “sham” sanctuary devoted to profiting off human misery, has pushed the theories hard, including sharing doctored photos of rafts at a dock outside the Butterfly Center. He’s also spammed Wright with violent threats over Twitter, eventually resulting in his account being suspended. Kolfage himself is not speaking at the event, presumably because he’s currently under indictment for wire fraud and tax evasion due to allegedly stealing from the We Build The Wall nonprofit he founded.
Despite there being no evidence of trafficking or smuggling being run through the Center, the MAGA faithful have already started to make it a target. The email blast described an incident that went from troubling to potentially deadly when on Friday, Jan. 21, an unnamed “congressional candidate from Virginia” showed up with someone claiming to be a Secret Service agent, and “demanded access to the river so they could ‘see the rafts with the illegal crossing’ our property.”
After being told to leave, the candidate “tried to run over Marianna’s son […] who was trying to close the front gate to prevent the candidate and her friend from leaving with Marianna’s phone.” Local police are still investigating the incident, and the Center also informed the Secret Service that someone was pretending to be one of their agents, hunting for non-existent trafficking rafts.
This isn’t even the first alleged incident of vehicular mayhem at the Center this month. Just days before the “Virginia candidate” was accused of trying to run down Wright’s son, a Texas National Guard member deployed to the border as part of the anti-border crossing effort Operation Lone Star crashed a truck into a gate leading to a border levee on National Butterfly Center property. The incident was one of numerous incursions by the Border Patrol, ICE, and National Guard members onto Butterfly Center property, who Wright claims have “no authority” to be on their land.
If the idea of a nominally peaceful gathering place being shut down by violent conspiracy theorists sounds familiar, it’s because it’s happened before, in 2019, to the Grass Valley Charter School Foundation’s Blue Marble Jubilee fundraiser in rural Grass Valley, CA.
That festival was shut down due to an unevidenced conspiracy theory put forth by QAnon promoters who went viral with the claim that former FBI Director James Comey would unleash a series of “false flag jihads” on the event. Panicked parents became so concerned that the fundraiser would be set upon by armed QAnon believers looking to thwart Comey that Blue Marble Jubilee organizers canceled the festival, which was canceled again in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19.
The National Butterfly Center seems unlikely to suffer the same ultimate fate as the Blue Marble Jubilee, which might never be held again. The email blast makes it clear that the Center will reopen after its hastily announced weekend closure, though the closure “will further compound the financial strain the center continues to experience as a result of COVID.”
The National Butterfly Center did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Daily Dot.
But while the threat to the Jubilee was imagined, the threat to the National Butterfly Center—caught in a web of conspiracy theories and right wing hysteria—is very real. And no matter what the “rolling car protest” does, it’s targeting a harmless entity in the name of a baseless conspiracy theory.