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Texas butterfly centre closes after QAnon threats

Image source, Getty Images

A Texas butterfly sanctuary that sued to block border wall construction has been forced to close due to escalating threats from conspiracy theorists.

The National Butterfly Center sits on the Rio Grande river on the US-Mexico border. It was a vocal opponent of Donald Trump’s promised border barrier.

QAnon believers and groups supporting Mr Trump have baselessly claimed the centre is smuggling migrants.

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The centre said it was closing for “the safety of our staff and visitors”.

The centre will be closed until further notice, Jeffrey Glassberg, president of the North American Butterfly Association, which runs the organisation, said.

His statement cited “disruption caused by false and defamatory attacks directed by political operatives”.

The sanctuary is home to over 200 species of butterfly, as well as bobcats, armadillos, coyotes and tortoises. It attracts more than 35,000 visitors each year, including 6,000 school children.

It became an enemy of the former US president’s supporters in 2017 when it filed a lawsuit to block construction of the wall on its property. It argued that the barrier would cut two-thirds off the 100-acre nature preserve, “effectively destroying it”.

The move comes after an emergency three-day closure over the weekend, sparked by a nearby rally over border security called We Stand America.

One week before the rally, two women showed up demanding to “see the rafts with the illegal crossing”, the centre said in a statement last week.

They said that one person struck National Butterfly Centre executive director Marianna Trevino Wright and nearly ran over her son with their vehicle.

The person, who they identify as a political candidate in Virginia, can be heard claiming that the centre permits child rape, according to audio of the encounter provided to reporters.

The decision to close was made after a local Republican official warned her that the weekend event would feature a motor convoy, known as a “Trump train”, that would probably stop at the centre.

The conspiracy theory surrounding the butterfly sanctuary recalls the false claims back in 2016 that a Washington DC pizza parlour was running a child abuse ring for top Democrats. A man who believed in the wild rumours fired a gun at the restaurant, but no-one was injured.

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