Butterfly center & media's "threat" narrative, implicating conservatives, was bogus. Video emerges.
Updated: Feb 10
By Jonathan Salinas
Articles published the last two weeks, claiming 'QAnon-style' conspiracy theorists physically attacked the National Butterfly Center's staff and had more attacks planned with a 'Trump-style' rally, were bogus.
They discussed evidence largely unavailable to readers, included guilt by (fabricated) association, and dishonest framing of a physical altercation which was actually initiated by the center's director.
Containing bits of truth, the narrative is effectively violence-baiting, typical of broader attempts by middle-class liberals to frame-up conservatives as dangerous.
Beginning 27 January, local national and international news outlets all sang the same tune.
The Daily Beast, who received (but did not publish and thereby disallowed us from hearing) recordings of the aforementioned skirmish, described the audio as, "MAGA Candidate Caught on Tape Menacing Butterfly Sanctuary."
BuzzFeed News wrote, "Pro-Trump Conspiracy Theories Have Forced a Butterfly Sanctuary to Close for Three Days."
The Monitor wrote, "Butterfly Center director claims Virginia congressional candidate assaulted her."
The news even made it to the Middle East, as The Jerusalem Post reported, "QAnon forces shut-down of butterfly center amid sex trafficking claims," to name a few.
They continued through 3 Feb.
The Washington Post editorialized, "The National Butterfly Center closed indefinitely. A fringe Va. candidate is partly to blame."
The Texas Tribune reported, "Threats from QAnon conspiracists have forced a butterfly sanctuary in the Rio Grande Valley to close."
Texas Public Radio, who alone shared audio, said, "National Butterfly Center closes indefinitely following threats from right-wing conspiracy theorists."
So, what were these no doubt grave threats?
The original reports were all based on this newsletter sent by the National Butterfly Center 27 January to supporters, donors and members.
Titled, "URGENT NOTICE! CENTER CLOSING JAN 28-30," it opened:
"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, taking place in McAllen, TX, this weekend."
It went on:
"We made the difficult decision to close the center when Marianna was advised by the 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, because the We Stand America events include a "Trump Train"-style, "caravan to the border."
Who is this "former official" and what did they have to do with the event? They don't say.
This "credible threat," moreover, was just "advice" from a "friend" sought by Marianna Trevino Wright, the center's director, after the incident, according to The Daily Beast.
They said Mariana "consulted a friend who is involved in local Republican politics and who warned her 'to be armed at all times, or better yet out of town."
Does this mean that if Marianna had not sought "advice from a friend," the "threat" would never have been made?
The "former official" hasn't spoken publicly.
All that's left is the insinuation that merely being Republican or tied to Republicans makes one equal to any and all Republicans.
It took the newsletter a while to say what the "threats" actually were (seven paragraphs in) because it digressed to describe an incident that occurred the previous week and rehash old conspiracies made about the center years ago:
"We were alerted to this event on Friday, Jan. 21, following a visit by a congressional candidate from Virginia. She appeared 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. (See fake photo of rafts at our dock composed and disseminated by Kolfage & crew.)"
The first sentence interestingly admits that their knowledge of the conference did not even come about until after the incident involving the congressional candidate, suggesting it was not a point of discussion during the altercation, which would undermine the notion the two were connected.
As for the "fake photo" and "rafts," they are referring to a photo circulated by a right-wing operative and veteran, Brian Kolfage, in 2019, which showed the center's dock along the Rio Grande River. The caption alleged that a washed-up plastic "raft," near the floating dock, was used by "sex traffickers."
The center has always maintained the photo was doctored and that they are in no way involved in human trafficking. They are currently suing Kolfage and company for the defamation. Indeed, the smear is intended to suggest that regular border crossings in the area implicate the butterfly center.
Kolfage, whose account is now suspended, blocked me on Twitter in 2019 for challenging his smears. I've been a long-time defender of the center and have organized many protests there throughout the years, against border wall construction.
The center claims the congressional candidate and her friend parroted his smears, although they deny it. The candidate, Kimberly Lowe, says she mentioned an interest in human trafficking as a politician, but never referred to Kolfage or Bannon. Texas Public Radio's audio clip bears out Lowe's account.
The center apparently just threw Bannon and Kolfage into the mix to suggest an equivalence with Lowe and "conspiracists," who'd later be used by Trevino Wright to justify initiating a physical altercation.
"When asked to leave, they 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."
All accounts say Lowe and Michelle left the center and Marianna followed them out, after a few verbal exchanges inside.
While the women walked to their cars, Marianna continued verbally engaging them, accusing them of spreading lies.
Lowe began video recording, as she was surprised Marianna continued following and engaging, at which point Marianna tried taking Lowe's phone.
It appears from the TPR audio that Marianna's phone was taken at one point, as you can hear her demand her phone be returned. But video given to us by Lowe suggests Trevino Wright eventually got her phone back.
After everyone got their phones back, it seems the women tried leaving.
The center alleges the women tried leaving with Marianna's phone. They also say Lowe tried hitting Marianna's son with her car, which Lowe denies, claiming she was only trying to leave from what she described as an "attempted kidnapping."
"As the Virginia candidate fled the center, she tried to run over Marianna's son, who was filling in at the visitor's pavilion. Nick was trying to close the front gate to prevent the candidate and her friend from leaving with Marianna's phone, which they had taken from her after knocking her to the ground outside the pavilion. All of this was caught on our security cameras, and the visitor who witnessed the attempted aggravated assault with a deadly weapon on Nick called 9-11. It took Mission Police Department more than an hour to respond..."
Has Marianna gotten her phone back? How did she recover it, if so? Did the police recover Marianna's phone? No report asked these questions, let alone answer them. My request for audio went unanswered.
The center claims to have security footage, as well as audio which they shared with some reporters. They've not released video to the public.
Regarding De La Rosa's tweet above, the visit was not an "attack." It's also false to suggest that Lowe was in town just for the conference, as Lowe had already been in the Valley for two weeks. Lowe says she found out about the We Stand America event while in the RGV. This is but another demonstration of how 'journalists' uncritically ran with the butterfly center's version of events.
Video shows butterfly center director attempting to take congressional candidate's phone.
The litany of articles that adopted the center's point of view don't mention or just minimize the fact that Marianna started the physical altercation when taking Lowe's cell phone. Had Marianna never followed Lowe and Michelle, who were already leaving, there wouldn't have been an altercation. The butterfly center didn't mention Marianna's action in their newsletter, either.
Instead, the foul "conspiracy theorists" named in the newsletter were used by Trevino Wright to justify her actions, in an affidavit shared with the Daily Beast.
“Lowe had her phone up and appeared to be filming me. Given Bannon, Kolfage, the Neo-Nazi, Hardy Lloyd, and their various outlets have published and broadcast images of me, along with threats to the center, me and my children, I panicked. I moved to stop her from doing this, by knocking or taking away her phone and retreating inside the building to wait for the police.”
As for the car moment, we have no video of that, yet. However, Lowe maintains she drove safely around Nick, to leave the center. One reported eyewitness says Lowe drove recklessly. She disagrees.
The video shows Marianna pressing her body against Lowe's vehicle to prevent Michelle from leaving, as she records with (what appears to be) her phone, with which all media accounts reported the women had left. Trevino Wright denies she pressed against the vehicle's door, she told me 7 February. At one point in the video, you can actually hear Marianna affirming she indeed is in possession of her cell phone. After finally leaving, Lowe drove to Mission P.D. where she says they questioned her for hours.
So, how does this clown show butterfly circus tie back to the original threats made against the center? It doesn't. At all.
As mentioned above, Lowe did plan on attending the We Stand America conference, but she'd already been in the Rio Grande Valley for two weeks, going from county to county with other Republican politicians and officials who gave Lowe tours and allowed her to join them at political events.
Given also that Lowe says she was banished from a conference event the first night, it seems quite unlikely she was in cahoots with them. The negative press seemed to hurt conference attendance, as only around 70 showed up.
Regarding the unnamed "former state official" who made the "credible threat," and the local GOP chair to whom they're supposedly parents, they weren't listed as organizers. Lowe also says the former official denies the center's accounts.
As far as any connection between the former official and the conference, there seems to be none, or as we would say in the Valley, nada que ver.
The 'newsletter' ends with more insinuations.
"This 3-day, fundraising event organized by Trump operatives is just too similar to the 3-day Wall-o-thon organized by Bannon, Kolfage and Tommy Fisher, in celebration of their first, private border wall project (prior to their Mission project,) that likely incited the Wal-mart Massacre in El Paso."
Again, what does Bannon and company have to do with this event? The only purpose of mentioning them appears to be to equate the horrendous El Paso Massacre and other conservatives with the We Stand America conference.
"As if we needed further confirmation of the violent sentiment being stirred up against us, this morning, as we drove to work, we found someone had ripped down the National Butterfly Center sign, erected by the Texas Department of Transportation."
Couldn't the wind have been the culprit, during this windy winter in the RGV?
"We still cannot believe we are at the center of this maelstrom of malevolence rising in the United States," it concludes.
The "Trump-style train" would not make it to the butterfly center, mostly driving past it to get to border wall construction near Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park, just west of the center where they prayed and held a discussion on immigration.
No incidents were reported. But there was still enough there for The Monitor's Dina Arevalo to suggest terrorist activity, noting that one person held a rifle at the event and that some of the speakers were in D.C. on Jan 6. "Be very afraid!" was the subtext.
The conference's key organizer, Christie Hutcherson, and another congressional candidate did, however, stand outside the center 30 January. Standing there in peace, they mocked the idea that violence would descend. They also asked why the center cares more about butterflies than children being trafficked on the border, on and near the butterfly center, along the Rio Grande. These conservatives, who proclaim to care about refugees, always stop short of criticizing U.S. imperialism which creates them.
A subsequent newsletter published by the center shows another person who stopped outside the center, Sunday 30 January, as well. The center effectively referenced these "intensified attacks" in explaining why they would continue being closed 2 February. "Texas Butterfly Park to Close Indefinitely as Conspiracy Theorists Intensify Attacks," wrote Huff Post.
The butterfly center released another newsletter:
"We regret to announce that the National Butterfly Center will be closed to the public—both members and visitors—for the immediate future. This difficult decision was made Tuesday evening, Feb. 1, 2022, by the board of directors of the North American Butterfly Association, in the wake of recent events targeting the center. . . We look forward to reopening, soon, when the authorities and professionals who are helping us navigate this situation give us the green light."
Let's recap. Was there a "threat" made by the Virginia congressional candidate or the conservative conference against the center? No. Was the Virginia Congressional candidate (who supported Bernie Sanders in 2016 and participated in the 2016 Dem-exit in Philadelphia) a 'QAnon-style' conspiracy nut? She appears to hardly know what QAnon is. Did she initiate the physical altercation? No, the butterfly center's director did.
Did the candidate or her friend leave with the director's phone, as every media outlet claimed? That doesn't seem to be the case at all. Did the "former official" threaten the butterfly center? Not according to the center. Was he relaying a threat? They don't say that either. Was he offering "advice" to the center's director? That's what they told the Daily Beast. So, the only "threat" made came in the form of "advice" from a "friend"? Yes.
The only conspiracy theory here was advanced by the national butterfly center and parroted in every headline of the capitalist press that covered the story.
The Real Enemies
Trump voters are not the enemies of conservation, as the center's actions imply. Among the many who voted for him in 2016 are conservationists. The butterfly center's Luciano Guerra, for example, a brilliant wildlife photographer and journalist, voted for Trump in 2016 about which he wrote for the Washington Post. Several members of the butterfly center who I've met over the years are conservatives, if not proud Trump voters, which is their constitutional right.
At the heart of such frame-ups as these, which target Republicans and Democrats who don't fall in line, is the desire to curb the guarantee to due process and freedom of speech.
Mocking the conference as "free hate speech," as the center did in their first newsletter, itself alleging hate speech and echoing the discredited argument that hate speech is unprotected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, reveals vile contempt for freedom of expression.
Particularly troubling was the center's repeating the slander that the frame-up of General Michael Flynn was justified, in their description of him as a "pardoned criminal," in their first newsletter. Mirroring RussiaGate, which Trevino Wright was known for espousing and even alleged was connected to border wall funding, such frame-ups also seek to accommodate for the Democrats' political failures and inability to help working people.
Working and oppressed people, like the many who voted for Trump (in defiance of the Democratic Party's contempt for workers and small farmers), are the real targets of such attacks on the presumption of innocence.
The supposed connection between Kimberly Lowe and the We Stand America conference, "colluding" (if you will) to destroy the butterfly center, was a disingenuous amalgamation to frame-up conservatives as terrorists.
While the butterfly center has been the target of right-wing attention and harassment over the years, which Unete 956 has opposed, that has nothing to do with Lowe.
Although fascist attacks on the working-class will increase, as the world capitalist crisis deepens and workers gain class consciousness and independence, to which the response should always be responsible self-defense by the workers, we must condemn and reject these frame-ups in their entirety and jealously defend democratic rights won in blood by workers over centuries.
The real enemies of the environment and immigrant rights are both capitalist political parties and the private owners of big industry they represent.
No police investigation, court trial, election, or legislative reform can save the environment or migrant children. Only a workers and farmers government, which re-organizes production, housing and land in the interests of society rather than profit, can win environmental and migration justice for all.
* Update: Article has been edited to reflect responses made to me by the National Butterfly Center's director, Marianna Trevino Wright, after publishing.