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When Sophia Rashid ran into harassment from a white supremacist biker gang in Stillwater last month, she felt the danger immediately. But it wasn’t until she got back home and scraped the internet for more information about the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood that she realized the group isn’t just dangerous; it’s organized.
Sophia, a 25-year-old Muslim who wears a hijab and a niqab covering her face, voiced her fears at the time to local police and mainstream media—without much effect.
Now, Sophia tells Sahan Journal her concerns have been widely recognized and legitimized. That’s because one of her alleged harassers appears to have triggered fires and looting one month before she encountered him. A search warrant affidavit now identifies one of the gang as “Umbrella Man”: a white-supremacist ex-con allegedly responsible for property destruction in the George Floyd unrest.
“The minimization of what happened to me by the police, by the news, by my fellow citizens,” Sophia started, before taking a long pause and switching her attention to the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood. “Look what these guys did. Why didn’t you listen to me? Why aren’t you listening to people like me?”
The search warrant affidavit, filed July 27 by Minneapolis police at the Hennepin County District Court, identified the masked man known as “Umbrella Man.” This was the shadowy figure dressed in all black, wearing a gas mask and carrying an umbrella, who destroyed an AutoZone in south Minneapolis near the start of the George Floyd protests. Observers and news reports described the incident as an incitement for the property destruction, fires and looting that followed.
The man named in the search warrant, Mitchell Wesley Carlson, 32, hasn’t been charged with a crime. He’s described as a member of the Hells Angels biker gang and a known associate of the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood. The affidavit said he was also apparently present at the incident in Stillwater.
Sophia had been eating burgers and ice cream with her four-year-old daughter. Then, members of the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood approached her on the sidewalk of Main Street. While Sophia escaped the scene, escorted by servers from a restaurant, she walked a gauntlet of five other groups wearing motorcycle jackets with related insignia.
One man approached Sophia and started yelling at her. Sophia shut down, she recalled, and couldn’t decipher what he was saying.
Sophia voiced her concerns, first to local police, then on Facebook. After that post went viral, local media requested an interview with her. Instead of illuminating Sophia’s frightful experience, the segment that ultimately aired on KSTP-TV presented a strange and strained account of the incident.
“When you’re telling these types of stories it has major implications for the people involved,” Sophia told Sahan Journal in June. “That should be taken more seriously. It’s four minutes for them, but it’s my life.”
Sophia was worried by the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood. The police? Maybe not.
Sophia had heard about Umbrella Man before going on her trip to Stillwater. But it never occurred to her that police would later say the same man, unmasked and surrounded by associates, would follow her and her four-year-old daughter.
Through her own research, she said she found Facebook posts that suggested some members of the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood had attended the protests.
The Southern Poverty Law Center calls the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood “the nation’s oldest major white supremacist prison gang and a national crime syndicate.”
From her internet research, Sophia wondered about the role of the white supremacists during the George Floyd unrest. “I was thinking about all of the incidents put together, rather than the Umbrella Man himself,” Sophia said. “If not the guys that were in Stillwater that night, parts of their group were some of the people inciting violence at the protests.”
Sophia alerted the investigators in Stillwater working on her case. But she said the officers didn’t seem particularly concerned during the conversation.
‘This individual’s sole aim was to incite violence’
Erika Christensen is the Minneapolis police arson investigator who was assigned to identify Umbrella Man.
“This was the first fire that set off a string of fires and looting throughout the precinct and the rest of the city,” Christensen stated in the search warrant affidavit.
“Until the actions of the person your affiant has been calling ‘Umbrella man,’ the protests had been relatively peaceful. The actions of this person created an atmosphere of hostility and tension. Your affiant believes that this individual’s sole aim was to incite violence.”
An anonymous police tip identified Carlson as the person seen on a video breaking the windows of an auto shop during the protests. The affidavit said looting ensued shortly after the windows of the shop shattered. The auto shop was then lit on fire, which set off a string of fires throughout the city.
After Christensen contacted the sender of the anonymous tip, she said, that person reported Carlson wanted to “sow discord and racial unrest.” As of Tuesday, Carlson has not been arrested or charged.
Christensen said she spent “innumerable hours” sifting through social media to determine Umbrella Man’s identity, though unsuccessfully. Once Christensen received the tip, she noticed a resemblance between photos of Carlson and a man photographed in Stillwater by Sophia.
Carlson previously has been convicted for gross-misdemeanor-level domestic assault, terroristic threats and misdemeanor-level fifth degree assault.
“Despite the pushback from a lot of different angles, despite the minimization, and hearing that there’s ‘much ado about nothing,’ I’m so glad I said something,” Sophia said. Had she not, it’s possible Carlson’s role in the two incidents—in Stillwater and in south Minneapolis—would never have been linked.
For Sophia, the problem doesn’t lie with one “Umbrella Man” or one incident with the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood she faced in Stillwater. After publicizing her incident, Sophia said she’d heard from other people across the city who reported seeing the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood before.
She concluded this white supremacist biker gang means to pursue dangerous goals. And the proof lies in the video of an unidentified man holding a black umbrella over his head while using a sledgehammer to destroy a storefront.
“It’s definitely organized. Umbrella Man is one man but there is something going on there, and we should treat that as a concerning thing,” Sophia said. “Why are we being nonchalant about extremist groups organizing violence?”
Hibah Ansari is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.