Along the banks of the Rio Grande in Mission, Texas, there is no shortage of bad blood between two unlikely antagonists.
The National Butterfly Center, a non-profit nature preserve whose top official is an outspoken liberal activist, and the Texas National Guard, which is more than a year into its controversial, issue-plagued mission to monitor the state’s border with Mexico, have clashed for months.
The center’s executive director, Marianna Treviño Wright, has been a polarizing figure since the center filed lawsuits when then-President Donald Trump’s border wall plan threatened to cut the center’s land in two. Treviño Wright has also open-carried a handgun on the center’s property since an alleged fight in the center’s reception area with a right-wing congressional candidate in January.
Border wall activist and Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage, who will go to federal prison for defrauding donors to his “We Build the Wall” fund, attacked Treviño Wright as a “left wing ‘thug’ with a ‘sham’ butterfly agenda” — a phrase now featured on mugs in the center’s gift shop, according to the New York Times.
Two months after Trump lost the 2020 election, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced the deployment of Texas Guardsmen to the Mexico border, dubbing the mission Operation lone Star. He later expanded it to 10,000 troops — only about 6,500 of whom are at the border — via massive involuntary mobilizations that resulted in hardship for troops on the mission.
Since Operation Lone Star began, Treviño Wright has spoken out about troops cutting the center’s barbed wire fence and trespassing. In January, Guard troops also crashed a truck into an access road gate that Treviño Wright said was on center property, though Texas officials claimed the gate was on federal land.
The center’s Twitter account also questioned whether a Texas Guard soldier had put a pistol to a migrant’s head, citing April surveillance footage. But upon review, the video does not appear to depict a handgun. Texas Military Department officials said the member was holding a night vision device.
But now the butterflies are armed — kind of.
In the latest incident Monday, a Texas National Guard soldier abandoned a loaded M4A1 carbine in a running pickup truck with its doors unlocked. The truck, an unmarked pickup with an Oregon plate, was parked alongside three marked Border Patrol trucks and another unmarked truck along a road near the butterfly center.
Worst of all, the rifle’s dust cover was open.
The center director noticed the unsecured weapon, notified the local Border Patrol station chief, and took it to her office for safe-keeping, she recalled in an interview with Army Times. She shared screenshots of her messages to the station chief with Army Times, as well.
Later that day, she decided to post about it on Twitter.
“Today, I got my hands on a fully automatic weapon thanks to the stupid, irresponsible #TexasNationalGuard #OperationLonestar who left their vehicle running and unlocked with guns inside on the side of the road,” she said. “Guess the truck could’ve been mine, too.”
Later tweets included photos of the rifle in her office and an image of the lower receiver, which revealed the weapon was a former M4 carbine that was converted into an M4A1 to replace the burst feature with fully automatic fire.
Treviño Wright explained that she was worried that someone could get their hands on the weapon and harm ether the agents, soldiers or passersby.
She posted that she had “returned the abandoned automatic weapon to the sergeant ‘in charge’ of this merry band of dipshits.”
A Texas Military Department spokesperson confirmed via email that “a weapon was left unsecured in a vehicle during the apprehension of illegal migrants,” adding that the “incident remains under investigation. The Texas Military Department remains committed to providing safety and security along our southern border.”
The spokesperson, who did not provide their name, did not respond to a follow-up question seeking to determine how many migrants were apprehended. Treviño Wright claimed there were none.
Since posting about the rifle on Twitter, she’s received thousands of responses — some in support, but many more piled on, arguing that removing the rifle from the truck was a crime.
Although a fairly common occurrence in the Army, misplacing one’s weapon can result in serious consequences for a soldier — though the service doesn’t even know how many weapons it has missing, according to a June 2021 investigation by the Associated Press.
Several Instagram pages dedicated to creating memes and other humorous content about life on Operation Lone Star also weighed in, with one calling Treviño Wright “a very vocal nuisance to us” but acknowledging that “this was the best case scenario...what if a bad dude had found it?”
Another Instagram page created a parody press release with the headline “Texas Guard arms National Butterfly Center.”
However bad their mistake, our unnamed hero did one thing right — at least the weapon was on safe.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.