A private security company that tried to recruit former U.S. military Special Operations personnel to guard polling sites in Minnesota on Election Day agreed Friday to cancel its plans following an investigation by Attorney General Keith Ellison, who warned the effort would amount to voter intimidation.
In a settlement announced by Ellison, the company, Atlas Aegis, said it would not provide security services in the state from now through Jan. 1, 2022. The Tennessee-based company also pledged that it would not seek to intimidate voters in connection with the election.
“Minnesota and federal law are clear: it is strictly illegal to intimidate or interfere with voters," Ellison said in a statement. “I want to make it crystal clear to anyone who is even thinking about intimidating voters that I will not hesitate to enforce the laws against it to the fullest extent."
Atlas Aegis didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday morning.
The agreement highlights a core concern for civil rights organizations and many state officials going into Election Day: that private groups, some of them fueled by President Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about election fraud, may show up armed at polling locations and frighten voters.
The situation is especially fragile in Minnesota, a battleground state that became the center of nationwide racial justice protests over the summer following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by a Minneapolis police officer. Hundreds of businesses in Minneapolis were damaged or destroyed when some of the demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality turned violent.
Atlas Aegis first raised alarms among state and local officials in early October after its chairman, Anthony Caudle, posted a message through a defense industry jobs site calling for former Special Operations forces to staff “security positions in Minnesota during the November Election and beyond to protect election polls, local businesses and residences from looting and destruction.”
Caudle told The Washington Post in an interview at the time that he was planning to send a “large contingent” to the state “to make sure that the antifas don’t try to destroy election sites.” Antifa refers to the loose collection of far-left activists who have participated in demonstrations and violent protests recently.
Ellison launched an investigation into Atlas Aegis shortly after, telling the company to cease and desist, and saying that armed contractors at polling places would violate laws related to voter intimidation, the licensing of security guards, prohibitions on private armed gatherings, and public nuisances.
The settlement is a written assurance from the company resolving the attorney general’s investigation into the company.
Filed in Ramsey County District Court, it says that Atlas Aegis misrepresented the nature of a request for security work in Minnesota when it put out the call for poll guards.
According to the settlement, an unnamed Minnesota security company sought help from outside the state in protecting a group of businesses against possible civil unrest surrounding the election. The company “never indicated that the work would involve any security at or near polling places,” the document reads.
Atlas Aegis learned of the request from two of its industry contacts, neither of which said the work required polling site security, according to the settlement.
Nevertheless, Atlas Aegis "advertised that the scope of work included security ‘to protect election polls,’ ” the document says.
Caudle told The Post earlier this month that Minnesota election officials and law enforcement in the state are aware that armed civilians intended to guard polling sites, but officials rejected that assertion and said they had no plans to allow armed guards near the polls.
“In fact, Caudle and Atlas Aegis misunderstood the potential scope of work, which did not include any security at or near polling places,” the settlement says. “Caudle had no direct information to suggest that Minnesota election officials were aware that ‘armed civilians intended to guard polling sites’ nor that Minnesota law enforcement was aware that ‘armed civilians intended to guard polling sites.’ ”
Atlas Aegis acknowledged in the settlement that its statements to The Post were incorrect.
“In making these statements," the document says, “Atlas Aegis did not intend to intimidate, coerce, or threaten Minnesota voters, poll workers, or others aiding or urging Minnesota voters to vote; or to make Minnesota voters less willing to vote.”
The document adds that no Atlas Aegis contractors will be present in Minnesota in November and will not act as “security” at polling places.
Under the agreement, the company will communicate through the job boards and listservs where it published its initial advertisements that it was wrong to suggest that the work involved monitoring polls.
Atlas Aegis will face a $50,000 penalty if it violates the agreement. It could also face sanctions for contempt. The company didn’t admit to violating any state laws.
“I’m holding Atlas Aegis to account for their misstatements about recruiting security for polling places in Minnesota that potentially frightened Minnesota voters," Ellison said. "They won’t be doing it again and will not be anywhere in Minnesota before, during, or after Election Day.”
Joshua Partlow contributed to this report.