A "Muslims Get Out" sign in front of a small-town dining spot in southern Minnesota will remain, the owner said Tuesday, despite the business being targeted by what he said was hate-inspired vandalism.
Dan Ruedinger said he put up the message this week in front of Treats Family Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor in Lonsdale soon after a stabbing rampage inside a St. Cloud mall over the weekend that the FBI is investigating as a possible act of terrorism.
Ruedinger said he's "had enough" and is "standing up" to all the violence that extremists have inspired around the world.
On Tuesday, he sat down in his shop with Jaylani Hussein, executive director for the Minnesota Chapter of the Council On American-Islamic Relations, and a retired pastor from Faribault, who drove to the Lonsdale shop to talk about the sign and invite the Ruedingers to meet with Muslim community members at the Islamic Center of Faribault.
It was a short conversation and unfortunately we didn't agree, Hussein said after the meeting. But it was the start of a conversation and there's hope that it will continue, he said.
"It's all about dialogue," Hussein said.
He said the Muslim community was shocked and appalled by the weekend stabbings in St. Cloud. "People just need to realize that in these tragedies we need to come together," Hussein said.
The message on Ruedinger's sign doesn't do that, he said.
Ruedinger said he didn't mean to offend anyone with his sign. "Our problem isn't with the entire Muslim population," he said after meeting with Hussein. "It's with the extremists and the nut jobs."
He said his message is not that he is turning away Muslims or anyone else as patrons.
"Anyone who wants to come in here can," he said. "No matter their ethnicity or race, if they come in here and be nice, I don't care what their race is."
When Ruedinger arrived Tuesday to get ready to open, police were outside responding to a call about vandalism. He said three soda bottles were thrown and busted a window. Left at the scene was "a hate note," he said.
Police Chief Jason Schmitz said the vandalism call came into his department at about 12:20 a.m., and he added that classifying the damage and the note as a hate crime is "something we have to look at."
Joe Reyes posted a photo of the sign to the Lonsdale Happenings Facebook group midday Monday, and it quickly gained a flurry of comments and shares.
"I do not like seeing our town in this negative image of intolerance," Reyes said Tuesday. "I love this town. This business does not represent our town." Lonsdale, 40 miles south of Minneapolis, has about 4,000 residents.
Several protesters gathered outside Treats on Monday holding signs that read "Love Trumps Hate" and "Racism will not solve any problem." During the protest, Dan's wife, Karen Ruedinger, came out and added "In support of St. Cloud" to the sign.
Earlier Monday, a woman started taking down the letters from the sign at one point, prompting a brief altercation between her and Dan Ruedinger. No arrests were necessary, but the woman could yet be charged with trespassing, Police Chief Schmitz said.
Mayor Tim Rud said Tuesday, "I do not condone the message of the sign, and it certainly does not reflect the views of myself, the City Council, city staff or the many community residents that I know."
The mayor added that he respects "the business owner's right to free speech as well as all residents'."
Still Ruedinger claims response from the public to his sign has been overwhelmingly positive.
"My business actually doubled last night," he said. "One guy came in and said, 'I've never been here, and I will be back.' "
He's heard from people around the country and closer to home, Ruedinger added, from St. Cloud to Cleveland to Kansas City.
"People would be amazed about how many people feel this way," he said.
The Ruedingers have let their views on local politics be known as well recently. They posted on the business' Facebook page that they will financially support mayoral and City Council candidates who "share the same core beliefs and values that the majority of this town shares as they will be the ones deciding if you win or lose. Also be willing and ready to always do [what] is in the best interest of the citizens."
Star Tribune staff writers Mary Lynn Smith and Colleen Kelly contributed to this report. Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482