A private security company is recruiting former U.S. military Special Operations personnel to guard polling sites in Minnesota on Election Day, an effort the chairman of the company said is intended to prevent left-wing activists from disrupting the election but that the state attorney general warned would amount to voter intimidation and violate the law.
The recruiting effort is being done by Atlas Aegis, a private security company based in Tennessee that was formed last year and is run by U.S. military veterans, including people with Special Operations experience, according to its website.
The company chairman, Anthony Caudle, posted a message through a defense industry jobs site this week 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.” He said in an interview earlier this weekthat he is planning to send a “large contingent” to Minnesota but did not specify the numbers.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a Democrat, said in a statement Friday that he joined election officials in “strongly discouraging this unnecessary interference in Minnesota’s elections, which we have not asked for and do not welcome.”
“Federal law and state law are both clear: No one may interfere with or intimidate a voter at a polling place,” he said. “The presence of armed outside contractors at polling places would constitute intimidation and violate the law. I request this company cease and desist any planning and stop making any statements about engaging in this activity.”
Ellison added that “we don’t expect to have to enforce our laws against voter intimidation, but we will use every resource available to us and all the power of the law if we have to.”
Caudle did not respond to a request for comment Friday on Ellison’s statement.
The security guard recruitment drive comes as civil rights organizations have been warning that groups – primarily on the right – may turn up armed at the polls in an effort to patrol them and perhaps intimidate voters, encouraged by President Donald Trump’s repeated claims that the election will be rigged against him. Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group known for street fighting, responded enthusiastically when Trump said during the last presidential debate that the group should “stand back and stand by.”
A Trump campaign spokesperson said the campaign had never heard of Atlas Aegis and that it was not involved in the effort.
Minnesota has been at the center of a national protest movement sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by police in Minneapolis in May. Those protests led to the damage of hundreds of businesses amid the eruption of anger over his killing and that of other Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement.
The prospect of introducing armed guards at election sites during this sensitive moment alarmed election officials in the state. It is illegal in Minnesota for people other than voters and elections staff – or those people meeting the requirements to be a registered election “challenger”- to be within 100 feet of polling sites.
There are also laws against voter intimidation that could prevent armed civilians from being in the area even if outside the buffer.
In an interviewearlier this week, Caudle, the chairman and co-founder of Atlas Aegis, said the client is a “consortium of business owners and concerned citizens” in Minnesota, but he declined to name the group. That consortium hired another unnamed firm licensed in Minnesota as the prime contractor, and Caudle’s company is responsible for staffing the security guards, he said. He declined to say where in Minnesota the guards would operate or how many intend to be out on Election Day.
Caudle denied that having elite former U.S. military personnel in the vicinity of polling sites would intimidate voters.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “These people are going to be never even seen unless there’s an issue. So it’s not like they’re going to be standing around and only allowing certain people in.”
“They’re there for protection, that’s it,” he added. “They’re there to make sure that the antifas don’t try to destroy the election sites.”
“Antifa” refers to a loose collection of leftist activists who have participated in protests, including violent ones, this year.
Caudle said Minnesota election officials as well as law enforcement in the state are aware that armed civilians intend to guard polling sites.
But election officials in Minnesota, at the state level and in Minneapolis, said that they had never heard of this company or any plan to allow armed guards at polling sites. Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat, said that “no one can do anything other than go to and from voting” in the 100-foot buffer.
Within that buffer, “they can’t have a bullhorn or hold a sign or do a chant or do anything that is involved with the election,” Simon said in an interview.
Simon, who was not aware of the Atlas Aegis call for security guards until notified by The Washington Post, added that state and federal laws also prohibit law enforcement or armed personnel from preemptively deploying at polling sites, as that could be perceived as voter intimidation. Armed security guards are not going to be allowed to help law enforcement in the event of an incident, he said, “in fact, they’re making things more difficult.”
“It’s not a good use of people’s time and money to arm themselves or others at or near a polling place,” he said. “It’s not helping.”
“Law enforcement on the state and federal level, with whom we are in constant touch, have a good handle on the situation,” he added. “No one needs to arm themselves or others in order to safeguard democracy this year.”
The top election official in Minneapolis, city clerk Casey Carl, also said that he and his security manager have never heard of Atlas Aegis or any plan to have armed guards at polling sites. Asked if an armed presence amounted to voter intimidation, Carl said “certainly I could appreciate how voters could interpret that as intimidation.”
“I am not authorizing them to be at my polling places,” Carl said.
In the protests that erupted following the death of Floyd, more than 1,500 businesses in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area suffered property damage, according to a count by the Star Tribune. The protests also prompted a nationwide reckoning over issues of systemic racism and police abuse.
Caudle said the consortium of business owners and citizens in Minnesota that is hiring the armed guards “assumed that the same thing is going to happen at these polling places.”
“Unfortunately back when the first antifa and Black Lives Matter protests were happening, the entire country was left completely unprepared,” he said. “So we’re just going to do our absolute A-number-one best to make sure that that doesn’t happen this time around.”
Caudle’s biography on his website says he is a U.S. Army veteran who spent two decades in law enforcement. He has been a principal in another private security company in the past, according to state incorporation records. The company, November Group LLC, was paid $2,000 by Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign for “personnel service/equipment,” according to federal election records.
A spokesperson for Cruz did not respond to a request for comment.
Atlas Aegis was incorporated in August of last year, records in Tennessee show. The firm’s previous clients include a dental insurance company with offices in Tennessee, and it has also posted ads on job search sites seeking to hire armed security guards for a gun manufacturing plant in that state.
The job posting for Minnesota, which was distributed on SpecOpsNet.org, a job list for the defense industry, specifically seeks people with “Tier 1 and Tier 2” Special Operations experience, classifications for elite forces including units that have conducted kill-and-capture missions in the Iraq and Afghan wars. The pay was listed at $910 per day with an expected 15 to 30 days of work around the election.
Caudle said he intended to hire former special operators because “they have a better understanding of how to defuse a situation.”
“So if there is some sort of unfortunate encounter, then they would be able to defuse the situation instead of just creating an even worse situation, by resorting to violence,” he added. “Your Special Forces operators of today are intelligent people. They’re not a hammer. They’re a very delicate instrument.”
Caudle said he hoped this year’s election is “like all the others in the past, completely uneventful and completely a normal election cycle.”
“And I hope that there’s no violence,” he added.
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The Washington Post’s Shawn Boburg contributed to this report.