How Ayaan Hirsi Ali started a scene on Nicollet Mall

A St. Paul attorney and blogger faces misdemeanor charges after he allegedly hassled two Muslim women and threatened a man who intervened.

Minneapolis police say John Hugh Gilmore, 52, caused a scene Thursday night on Nicollet Mall when he confronted the women, who were covering their hair with traditional Muslim headscarves.

“He was drunk and thought it would be a good idea to start harassing passersby, including two women who were wearing the hijab,” said Sgt. William Palmer, a police spokesman.

One of the women was Jamila Boudlali, a geography major at the University of Minnesota. The man told the Boudlali and her friend they shouldn’t be in the United States “trying to change things,” she said. He then started to take pictures of the women, prompting one of Boudlali’s non-Muslim female friends to object.

Boudlali, 20, a lifelong Muslim and Minnesotan, started wearing the hijab about a year and a half ago.

“And nothing like this has ever happened to me,” she said. “I’ve never gotten anything, except people ask questions, but nothing so extremely hateful. I was so confused, just standing in shock.”

She believes Minneapolis police, who took the man to jail, did the right thing. Boudlali said many American Muslims are fearful of reprisal, so they don’t report disturbances targeting them.

“I have to admit, I was very surprised that the guy got arrested,” she said. “It made me really happy and made me have a lot more trust and confidence in the city of Minneapolis.”

One of the responding officers apparently told the Muslim women that he was taking Gilmore to “adult time out,” referring to the Hennepin County jail, said Hindia Ali, who arrived in time to see the arrest.

“He was so nice and said, ‘I’m sorry that this happened to you guys,'” Ali, pictured below, said of the police officer.

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Authorities charged Gilmore with disorderly conduct and obstructing the legal process, both misdemeanors, after he allegedly threatened to hit a man who put himself between Gilmore and the women. In fact, several attendees from the liberal NetRoots Nation conference rushed to defend the women from Gilmore. One man placed Gilmore under citizen’s arrest.

The event coincided with the RightOn convention for conservative bloggers and activists.

Gilmore, author of the blog Minnesota Conservatives, did not respond to a request for comment. But the incident sparked some testy exchanges on both sides.

So, what provoked the unrest?

Police say Gilmore started to ask the women about Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the controversial Somali-born author of the bestselling memoir “Infidel.” The book details Ali’s experiences with arranged marriage and female genital mutilation in Somalia, as well as her pointed criticism of Islam.

Boudlali recalls Gilmore gave them the “thumbs up,” implying his approval of Ali’s writings.

“Actually, we don’t agree with her,” Boudlali says she and her friends replied. “But it’s OK. We can agree to disagree.”

That’s when things started to escalate, Boudlali said.