A coalition of voter rights advocates is celebrating a federal court settlement this week that prohibits a private security company from deploying armed guards within 250 feet of Minnesota polling locations during elections, effective through 2025.

The advocacy groups sued Atlas Aegis, a Tennessee-based company, for voter intimidation after it posted a job advertisement last October seeking U.S. special operations forces veterans to protect the polls from "Antifas" intent on "destroying the election sites." The federal lawsuit, filed by the Minnesota chapters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and League of Women Voters, alleged that Atlas was trying to "sabotage a free and fair election" by intimidating would-be voters in Minnesota.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel approved a consent decree on Tuesday that stipulates Atlas shall not "deploy armed agents within 250 feet of, or otherwise monitor, places in Minnesota where ballots are being counted, recounted, or canvassed," or otherwise intimidate voters. The company, "in the normal course of their business," can send armed or unarmed security to Minnesota, but it must provide written notice 25 days in advance if the security will be visible within 250 feet of a polling location during an election, according to the agreement.

"I think this is a victory for all citizens," said Jaylani Hussein, executive director of Minnesota's CAIR chapter. Hussein said he believes Minnesota's large immigrant community has made it a target for right-wing attacks, and the outcome will "send a strong message to other groups that aim to do similar types of voter intimidation tactics."

The agreement specifies that Atlas and its chairman, Anthony Caudle, do not admit to liability. The company's attorney declined to comment beyond the decree.

Atlas posted the recruitment advertisement less than a month before the 2020 election on a defense industry job listserv seeking to fill "security positions in Minnesota during the November Election and beyond to protect election polls, local businesses and residences from looting and destruction." In an interview with the Washington Post, Caudle said they aimed to specifically prevent left-wing extremists from disrupting the election.

Around this time, the campaign for Donald Trump had repeatedly warned his supporters, without evidence, that his enemies planned to illegally influence the outcome of the election. On the Team Trump Facebook page, Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. had put out a call for people to enlist in the "ARMY FOR TRUMP's election security operation," in which he suggested "the radical left are laying the groundwork to steal this election from my father."

Minnesota election rules prohibit private security or other related individuals or groups from entering polling places. Only one challenger per major political party is allowed inside, and anyone else who isn't voting or working at the poll site must stay 100 feet away.

The recruitment notice prompted Minnesota election officials to publicly condemn Atlas' services as unwelcome. In an agreement in late October, Atlas agreed to rescind its plans.

The advocacy groups continued to push the lawsuit after Nov. 3 to protect future elections from those who would wish to interfere, said Ben Clements, chairman and senior legal adviser for nonprofit Free Speech for People, which led the team of lawyers representing CAIR and League of Women Voters Minnesota.

"It's illegal," said Clements. "It will not be tolerated. And the courts of this country will block you and hold you accountable if you threaten to or actually engage in that type of activity."

Clements said the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol demonstrated the ongoing threat that "armed mercenaries" pose to the nation's elections. "Both groups are linked more broadly to the rhetoric of Donald Trump and the urging from Trump and his allies for their supporters to use violence and threats of violence to intimidate people from voting," he said.

Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036