POLITICS

Private Firm Mobilizing Armed Vets For Election Day Stands Down After Minnesota Warning

Atlas Aegis of Tennessee agrees to keep its "security" operations out of Minnesota until 2022 in a settlement with state Attorney General Keith Ellison.

A private firm from Tennessee agreed Friday to stop recruiting military Special Operations veterans to battle imagined “antifas” at Minnesota polling stations on Election Day. 

The chilling plan to deploy the armed gang was targeted earlier this week in a lawsuit by citizen groups, calling it a blatant violation of the Voting Rights Act and an incitement of domestic terrorism.

Atlas Aegis, which says it is run by military veterans, agreed to stand down following an investigation and warning from Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who blasted what he characterized as a voter intimidation operation.

Atlas Aegis agreed in a settlement that it would discontinue the operation, Ellison announced. The company also agreed to make it clear that earlier statements to the media were wrong and that the firm “did not intend to intimidate, coerce, or threaten Minnesota voters [or] poll workers ... or to make Minnesota voters less willing to vote.”

An “assurance of discontinuance” of the Atlas Aegis operation was filed Friday in Ramsey County District Court.

“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 statement Tuesday when he launched an investigation into the operation. “The presence of private ‘security’ at polling places would violate these laws.”

He added Friday: I’m holding Atlas Aegis to account for their misstatements about recruiting security for polling places in Minnesota that potentially frightened Minnesota voters. They won’t be doing it again and will not be anywhere in Minnesota before, during, or after Election Day.”

Ellison had demanded business records from the company to determine who is paying for the vigilantes and how Atlas Aegis intended to deploy them. He told the company to “cease and desist any planning and stop making any statements about engaging in this activity.”

Anthony Caudle, the company’s chairman and co-founder, insisted in an interview earlier this month with The Washington Post that the vigilantes “would not be seen” at polling stations — “unless there’s an issue.” They will be deployed to “make sure that the antifas don’t try to destroy the election sites,” he said, referring to anti-fascist activists. There is no indication that any “antifas” intend to destroy polling stations.

The company had posted a help-wanted message through a defense industry job site calling for former members of 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.” 

Those messages have since been pulled down. Atlas Aegis will now post on its advertising sites that it was wrong to suggest that it was hiring armed guards for poll site security, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis reported.

Caudle told the Post that the client seeking to mobilize the armed gang is a “consortium of business owners and concerned citizens” in Minnesota. He refused to identify them. 

As part of the settlement with Ellison, the company agreed not to provide any protective agent services in Minnesota from now until Jan. 1, 2022. Under terms of the settlement, violations could result in a $50,000 penalty.

There’s no indication that President Donald Trump’s campaign was linked to the operation. But the campaign and the president have issued calls for thousands of partisan “poll watchers,” which they refer to as Trump’s “Army,” to “fight” for the president.

We want to know what you’re hearing on the ground from the candidates. If you get any interesting ― or suspicious! ― campaign mailers, robocalls or hear anything else you think we should know about, email us at scoops@huffpost.com.

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