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Texas butterfly sanctuary shuts citing threats from Trump supporters

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The private sanctuary's gardens are home to more than 200 species of butterfly as well as bobcats, coyotes, peccaries, armadillos and Texas tortoises./AFP
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Feb 04, 2022 - 02:14 AM

HOUSTON — A butterfly sanctuary caught in the crossfire of polarizing conspiracy theories on illegal immigration to the United States said it will shut its doors Thursday, citing security concerns after receiving threats from supporters of former president Donald Trump.

The National Butterfly Center in Texas, located on the banks of the Rio Grande that separates the United States from Mexico, had filed a complaint to block construction of the border wall that became a centerpiece of Trump’s presidency, saying it threatened the winged insects’ habitat.

The private sanctuary’s gardens are home to more than 200 species of butterfly as well as bobcats, coyotes, peccaries, armadillos and Texas tortoises.

But it will now be closed until further notice because “the safety of our staff and visitors is our primary concern,” Jeffrey Glassberg, president of the North American Butterfly Association, which runs the organization, said in a statement Wednesday.

Conspiracy theories targeting the sanctuary — which have been linked to far-right group QAnon by US media — have claimed it was helping to bring illegal migrants to America.

The facility already closed between January 28 and 30 because of “credible threats” related to an event held by supporters of the former president in nearby McAllen, Glassberg said.

Photos purporting to be from the center had been circulating along with messages accusing the organization of helping smugglers bring migrants to the United States.

Several right-wing activists have posted videos on social media of themselves in front of the sanctuary.

“We don’t think the threat has passed,” the sanctuary’s executive director Marianna Trevino Wright told AFP on Wednesday, citing repeated “provocations” from these individuals.

Wright said she feared the allegations against the center would eventually push someone to “take action.”

“We look forward to reopening, soon, when the authorities and the professionals who are helping us get past this situation give us the green light,” Glassberg said in the statement, noting that employees would continue to receive their salaries during the closure.

The QAnon far-right conspiracy movement began in 2017 with claims that the Democrats ran a satanic child-kidnapping sex-trafficking ring, and it has been blamed for fuelling a riot at the US Capitol on January 6 last year.

Trump has never condemned the movement and even fed QAnon fever before the US presidential election in 2020, floating his own conspiracy theories about a planeload of black-clad saboteurs disrupting his party convention.

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