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Soon thereafter, a Department of Education report faulted the school for failing to adequately respond to the girl's complaints. The Lake Arrowhead Mountain-News obtained the report and the girl's mother gave the paper a graphic account of what she says the boy had said: "I want to lick you where you pee. I want to hump you all day and night."
According to the mother, the boy also threatened to harm the girl's classmates if they reported him. She said that he said: "I know where you live. If you tell somebody, I will go to your house and kill your dog." The boy also allegedly threatened to rape the girls' mothers and sisters.
That spurred another, more vehement protest — this time from parents who denounced school administrators for not doing more to protect their daughters.
The story had an especially profound effect on Donnelly. He embellished it in Internet postings, saying the boy had "molested and terrorized 11 girls.
"He told them things that would make you ashamed to have even heard them," he wrote. "He told the girls that if they told, he would kill them or their sister or their mother after first doing even more unmentionable things."
Donnelly attributed those quotes to an Education Department report, although in fact all the more salacious details had come from the girl's mother. He repeatedly said the boy's parents were illegal immigrants, although that was never proved, and argued that the problem should have been solved with one phone call to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Donnelly reserved special scorn for Navarro — an "ethnic hustler" who "labeled us all 'racists' " — and the school administrators who had been slow to react. He said the most outrageous moment was when an administrator said, "This boy has rights."
"That comment by that administrator turned me from an average citizen to an activated citizen," he wrote. "I am proud to be a 'racist' if the definition of racist means that you can tolerate being called names in order to protect children from sexual predators."
He began to study the immigration issue online, and started to feel like he was living a Kafka-esque nightmare. Millions of immigrants were living in the country illegally, and nobody cared. Worse, when he tried to explain it to people, they thought he was a lunatic. Then, he heard Minuteman co-founder Jim Gilchrist issue a call for volunteers on Los Angeles radio station KFI. He knew he had to go.
He kissed his sobbing wife goodbye and set out for Tombstone.
"I think she thought I was crazy," he says.
He wasn't sure she was wrong. On the drive, he wondered how he would make himself useful. Unlike some volunteers, he hadn't served in the military or in law enforcement, and he wasn't an experienced outdoorsman.
Once there, he saw rows of satellite trucks, and discovered his mission. "I started seeking out the cameras," he says.
Leveraging media attention was the whole point of the Minuteman Project, and Donnelly turned out to be pretty good at it. He learned to talk in sound bites. He went on Fox News Channel. On subsequent trips, he would meet Anderson Cooper and Greta Van Susteren.
"I remember him being very talkative," Gilchrist says. "He was a pretty good guy. No personality problems. Certainly not a racist."
Donnelly told the story about the 10-year-old boy in Twin Peaks. And while at the border, he picked up an even more vivid account. Standing outside his hotel one morning, a woman spotted his Colt .45, and thanked him for joining the Minutemen. She told him she lived near the border, and that she would often hear the screams of women being raped as they crossed her property. She also said the smugglers would leave the women's underwear on the trees as a "badge of honor."
That's the account he gives now. But when he told the story to journalists in 2005, there was a major difference: He said he had heard the screams himself.
"I thought the wailings we heard at night were the coyotes barking at the moon," he told The Washington Times. "I didn't know until later that those sounds were the cries of women being raped in the Mexican desert, some less than 100 yards away from the border. There was absolutely nothing anyone could do about it. It's something you never forget."
The reporter said Donnelly "grimaced as he turned away to hide his emotions."
When this was reported, bloggers demanded that the mainstream media "end their silence about the rape trees."
Donnelly visited the border a few more times over the next year. But media interest in the Minutemen petered out, and he struggled to figure out what to do next. He flirted with launching a new political party: the Minuteman Party. It seems to have been little more than a website, which is no longer online. It is accessible through an archive, and Donnelly's writing there offers an unvarnished look at his worldview.
On his "roll call" of members, Donnelly lists himself and two friends, giving each one's experience with the Minuteman Project in military terms.