Atlas Aegis, a Franklin-based private security company, is at the center of an investigation by the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office into whether the company is involved in voter intimidation.
The company has been named as the defendant in a federal lawsuit that alleges that the company is engaging in voter intimidation with the employment of “ex-soldiers” and “sending private, armed militias to Minnesota’s polling stations.”
Specifically the AG’s office is seeking to “understand who, if anyone, is hiring the private security, what their anticipated role will be — if any — near polling places, what training they will receive, and how they will meet Minnesota's requirements for appropriate licenses and permits.”
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office announced the investigation into Atlas Aegis in an Oct. 20 news release. The release says the AG's office sent a civil investigative demand, which is a formal request for information, to the company on Oct. 14.
According to the AG’s news release, Atlas Aegis must reply to the civil investigative demand within 10 days of its receipt as dictated by law.
While the Minnesota Attorney General's Office said in its news release that the AG doesn't normally comment on open and active investigations, they did voluntarily release the information "due to heightened public interest and the proximity of the [Nov. 3] election."
“Minnesota and federal law are clear: No one may interfere with or intimidate a voter at a polling place, and no one may operate private armed forces in our state,” Ellison said in the news release. “The presence of private ‘security’ at polling places would violate these laws. It would make no one safer and is not needed or wanted by anyone who runs elections or enforces the law. For these reasons, my office is formally investigating Atlas Aegis.”
On the same day a federal civil lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the District of Minnesota by the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Minnesota (CAIRMN) and the League of Women Voters of Minnesota against Atlas Aegis LLC, Atlas Aegis’ co-founder and Chairman Anthony Caudle, and “John Does #1-10.”
The 22-page complaint alleges that Atlas Aegis is working to recruit and deploy former special forces operators to Minnesota on Election Day and in the days after in an attempt to intimidate voters under the guise of “protecting election polls, local businesses and residences from looting and destruction,” as stated quoted from an Atlas Aegis recruitment advertisement included in the complaint.
The complaint alleges that the advertisement was also placed on military and defense-related job posting websites, including SpecOpsNet.org and the website of the Marine Executive Association, which describes itself as a “national, volunteer, non-profit organization of former and current active duty Marines,” specifically naming the Minneapolis and St. Paul areas.
That advertisement included a pay rate of $700 per day and a $210 per diem, open only to former tier 1 or tier 2 special forces operators (such as those with experience with the US Navy SEALs, Delta Force, Army Rangers, Green Berets, MARSOC or Marine Force Recon.)
"We are anticipating the need will last well beyond the elections with 15 to 30 days of work," the advertisement reads.
According to the complaint, Atlas Aegis is working with a Minnesota security firm that is licensed to work in the state, referred to as "John Doe 1" in the complaint, to send "a large contingent" of armed personnel to the state.
The complaint alleges that the recruitment of such specially trained individuals is meant only to intimidate voters.
Atlas Aegis was founding in 2019, and according to the complaint, the company is also incorporated in Kentucky and Texas. Caudle, the co-founder and chairman of the company, is named in the suit.
According to the Atlas Aegis website, Caudle is a sixth-generation US Army soldier, having joined in 1992 after attending high school in Manchester, Tenn.
Caudle served as an airborne infantryman team leader with the 1/509th ABN INF HHC Recon (OPFOR), before a 23 year law enforcement career that included his graduation from the Northwestern School of Police Staff and Command in Nashville in 2009 before his retirement from law enforcement in 2017.
On Oct. 9 The Washington Post reported that Caudle said in an interview that his client is a “consortium of business owners and concerned citizens” in Minnesota, but he declined to name the group.
The Washington Post also reported that another unnamed firm that is licensed in Minnesota is the prime contractor with Atlas Aegis responsible for staffing security guards.
Caudle denied that the move would have any effect that could be seen as intimidation in his interview.
“Absolutely not,” he told the Post. “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,” Caudle said in the interview. “They’re there to make sure that the antifas don’t try to destroy the election sites,” referring to a loose group of leftists activists (short for "Anti-Fascist") that have taken part in both peaceful and violent demonstrations across the country since at least 2017.
Caudle told the Post that Minnesota election officials and law enforcement are "aware that armed civilians intend to guard polling sites," something that was later challenged with the Attorney General's investigation.
Caudle told the Post that the destruction seen in Minneapolis this summer after the killing of George Floyd by police is one reason that their client has enlisted Atlas Aegis' services.
"Unfortunately back when the first antifa and Black Lives Matter protests were happening, the entire country was left completely unprepared,” he told the Post. “So we’re just going to do our absolute A-number-one best to make sure that that doesn’t happen this time around.”
A Perfect Storm
Minnesota, specifically the Twin Cities, has a large Somali Muslim population, something that the complaint said is not inconsequential due to previous acts of harassment or violence against Minnesotan Muslims as well as unique experiences by many immigrants.
"In addition, the image of armed vigilantes at polling stations is particularly traumatic and deleterious to voter participation for people who have recently immigrated to the United States from countries where armed guards at polling stations are a symbol of violence and corruption," the complaint reads.
The complaint also details growing concern due to recent events across the nation from the death of George Floyd in May to the shooting death of one person and wounding of others in the streets of Wisconsin by a "pro-police" Illinois teenager in the wake of protests in August, as well as the arrest of militia members in Michigan this month who authorities said were plotting to kidnap Michigan's governor and blow up an improvised explosive device, and the overall growing threat from white supremacist groups and individuals nationwide.
Klobuchar called it "clear voter intimidation"
As previously reported, election security has been a hot topic both nationally and locally, as the Federal Bureau of Investigation has issued several warnings about voter intimidation and cyber security threats, and as President Trump has called on his supporters to be "poll watchers" in the "Army for Trump."
The complaint alleges that Atlas Aegis' advertisements and plans have already caused voter intimidation, which if true would be a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the lists the following goals in the court document's prayer for relief:
a. Declare that Defendants’ statements and actions already taken towards recruiting and deploying armed military personnel to polling places constitute unlawful voter intimidation in violation of Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act.
b. Order Defendants to cease recruitment of armed agents for the purpose of sending those agents to or near polling locations while polling is underway.
c. Order Defendants not to deploy armed agents at or near polling places nor to engage in other actions that may intimidate voters or interfere with voter access to polling locations while voting or the counting of votes is underway, at any time prior to and during the general election on November 3, 2020 or the counting of the votes for electors thereafter.
d. Award Plaintiffs reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.
e. Retain jurisdiction to ensure Defendants’ ongoing compliance with the foregoing orders.
f. Grant such other and further relief that this Court deems just and appropriate.
Several attempts to contact Atlas Aegis for comment were unsuccessful. This story will be updated if any request for comment is returned.