On Saturday, Sophia Rashid took her four-year-old daughter out for a night of dinner and coloring at Leo's Grill & Malt Shop in Stillwater.
In a widely shared Facebook post, Rashid depicted an idyllic scene of perfect weather and "amazing hamburgers" with her girl. Things took a turn when she noticed men in biker gang attire coming up to the patio, making eye contact with her, and seeming to motion at Rashid and her daughter. Some of the bikers' vests bore a logo of a skull with wings, and the words "Aryan Cowboys."
Rashid, who describes herself as "a very visible Muslim woman," instantly felt threatened by how casually these men were walking down public streets wearing these words.
"I’ve been in not-all-that-safe situations around racists/islamophobes before, but this one was just different, and I knew it almost immediately," she wrote.
Rashid alerted her restaurant server, a teenager, who got two other employees and "demanded I let them walk me to my car after I turned them down the first couple times they insisted."
She added: "I cannot thank them enough, nor can I adequately express the pure courage and allyship these girls had."
Rashid was even more grateful for their company when, as the group made for her car, several bikers saw her, made eye contact, and crossed the street in her direction. Fearing for her safety, Rashid started taking pictures of the men as they approached and passed her on the sidewalk. She said some were "making comments/yelling," but she was too scared to make out or remember what they'd said.
As Rashid wrote:
"Thankfully we were able to quickly walk away but within 20 seconds there was another group. Same thing happened. And then another group. Finally one more group with a lady who turned around to yell at me. We literally had seen at least 15-20 actual Nazis at this point, not in one single group but a large number of smaller groups. It’s like they were patrolling downtown Stillwater, exhibiting some sort of strategic plan to do who knows what. This was in the span of *one* block."
Overwhelmed with fear, Rashid, her daughter, and the teens escorting her stopped in the Lora Hotel, where she called the police.
"I can’t describe how I was feeling at this point," she wrote. "Guilt for somehow subjecting my daughter to Nazi gangs when all I wanted is to buy her some ice cream and show her the St. Croix River. Shaky numbness and sudden pangs of fear as the reality of what was going on finally hit. All I could say was thank you over and over to the girls from [Leo's] and everyone else from the hotel."
When police arrived, Rashid says she insisted on filing a report, adding later that she'd only meant it to be informational, and didn't expect any of the men she'd encountered to be arrested. She says one cop she spoke to wasn't familiar with the Aryan Cowboys, but "did a quick search" and found what little information is publicly known: According to the Anti-Defamation League, the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood "is a small white supremacist prison/street gang based primarily in Minnesota and Kentucky."
Other bikers out that night wore gear marking them as members of Hell's Angels or the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang, though Rashid attributes the most direct intimidation to the Aryan Cowboys members.
In a statement to the Pioneer Press, Stillwater Police Chief John Gannaway said the city is a destination for motorcyclists and "on rare occasions," biker gangs.
"Some motorcycle gangs wear insignia on their vests that is offensive to others," Gannaway continued. "The Stillwater Police Department does monitor their activities when they are present and takes the appropriate action when criminal acts are committed. If we see an increase in motorcycle gang activity, we will increase our presence, utilizing other jurisdictions and entities if needed.”
Stillwater Mayor Ted Kozlowski said the city had "never" had a problem like this before, and that he'd contacted the Washington County Sheriff and prosecutors to investigate.
"We’re absolutely taking this seriously,” he said. “We have to make sure that everybody feels safe in our town. We welcome everyone here, and we do not abide racism or discrimination of any sort."
Both Rashid and Kozlowski praised the restaurant and hotel staff for taking action to help Rashid feel safer in that moment.
Rashid's Facebook post has already been shared 16,000 times. Read it in full below.