Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has launched an investigation into a Tennessee-based company that listed job postings seeking ex-soldiers to provide armed security at polling places in the state next month.

The probe, opened last week, includes a demand for information about who contracted for Atlas Aegis' services, what the security guards' exact roles would be, and what training they would have on the state's voter protection laws.

Atlas Aegis, in a job advertisement that surfaced earlier this month, recruited for "security positions in Minnesota during the November Election and beyond to protect election polls, local businesses and residences from looting and destruction." The listing noted that the jobs were exclusive to U.S. special operations forces veterans.

The company is not licensed in Minnesota and has not disclosed what licensed entity it would work with. Its chairman, Anthony Caudle, recently told the Washington Post its guards would protect against "Antifas" and Black Lives Matter supporters who he said were intent on "destroying the election sites."

Ellison said the company is legally bound to reply to his office's civil investigative demand within 10 days, based on a Ramsey County District Court order. The formal request for information was sent on Oct. 14.

"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 a statement Tuesday announcing the investigation. "The presence of private 'security' at polling places would violate these laws."

Ellison's announcement came several hours after two advocacy groups sued the company in federal court. The Minnesota chapters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the League of Women Voters asked a federal judge on Tuesday to bar Atlas Aegis from recruiting or sending ex-special forces members "to or near polling locations while polling is underway," arguing that the company's actions amount to voter intimidation.

The two groups allege that the prospect of armed guards at Minnesota precincts "chillingly resonates with the recent rise of vigilante extremism." They also pointed to the recently thwarted plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and an armed civilian's killing of protesters in Kenosha, Wis.

"The threat of privately funded, heavily armed, militias prowling polling sites is a direct assault on the Voting Rights Act and our democracy," wrote Julia Dayton Klein, an attorney for the groups. Tuesday's lawsuit also asks U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel to order Atlas Aegis and Caudle to "immediately identify" the local security firm that is partnering with the company and the "businesses, entities, or individuals who hired them to send armed guards to the polls."

Atlas Aegis is not licensed to provide security in Minnesota, according to Richard Hodsdon, chairman of the Minnesota Board of Private Detective and Protective Agent Services, a state regulatory board. Hodsdon said that Atlas Aegis told the board this month that it was recruiting on behalf of a licensed company in Minnesota, but declined to provide a name. Atlas Aegis did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Hodsdon said the board is reminding all licensed security companies in the state about Minnesota laws on polling place activity. Hodsdon said businesses can hire private security in anticipation of unrest so long as the security does not interfere with polling places or otherwise violate state election laws.

Law enforcement of any kind cannot be stationed near polling places unless called by election workers for help. Minnesota law does not allow campaign activities within 100 feet of a polling place.

The federal lawsuit filed Tuesday against Atlas Aegis alleges that the company is violating the federal Voting Rights Act, arguing that Atlas Aegis is trying to "sabotage a free and fair election" by intimidating would-be voters in Minnesota.

According to the lawsuit, Atlas Aegis was created in August 2019 and advertises on its website "risk management services" staffed by "elite security teams of veterans and first responders."

A since-deleted job advertisement posted on Atlas Aegis' Facebook page promised a $700 daily salary with a $210 per diem for food, lodging and rental car. The posting noted that the company was "anticipating the need will last well beyond the elections" with 15 to 30 days of work to "protect election polls." The ad noted that only former U.S. military Special Operations Forces personnel would be considered. It also appeared on other job posting websites, including a site focused on jobs in the defense industry.

Caudle confirmed in an interview with the Washington Post that he planned to send a "large contingent" of armed former soldiers to Minnesota, without providing further details. Caudle told the Post that the personnel would act "when there is an issue" and confront perceived antifa or Black Lives Matter supporters. He also referenced the May and June unrest that followed George Floyd's death, saying "the entire country was left completely unprepared." Caudle added "we're just going to do our absolute A-number-one best to make sure that that doesn't happen this time around."

The prospect of armed groups at the polls has added fresh anxieties for Minnesota elected officials and those tasked with carrying out an already unprecedented election.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., described the Atlas Aegis listing as "clear voter intimidation" during the U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Ellison and Secretary of State Steve Simon have meanwhile issued notices that any armed contractors stationed at polling places would violate the law. Ellison has requested that Atlas Aegis "cease and desist any planning and stop making any statements about engaging in this activity."

Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755

Twitter: @smontemayor