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US AG launches investigation into company accused of hiring guards as poll watchers

04:55  22 october  2020
04:55  22 october  2020 Source:   abcnews.go.com

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Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison on Tuesday said his office was opening an investigation into a Tennessee-based company that has been accused of recruiting armed guards as poll watchers.

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Ellison said he was looking into Tennessee-based Atlas Aegis, which allegedly sent advertisements for armed security personnel on Election Day and "post election support missions," according to a lawsuit filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Minnesota and League of Women Voters of Minnesota.

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But a coordinated poll - watch effort, advocates warned, is particularly dangerous because of the GOP's history of using monitors to intimidate minority voters. While many states are working to expand mail voting to respond to the public health threat of the novel coronavirus, poll watchers can also monitor

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Ellison said it is against Minnesota's constitution for companies to hire private armed forces and to intimidate voters at the polls.

“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. "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."

Atlas Aegis has not responded to ABC News' request for comment about Ellison's investigation or the lawsuit.

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According to the lawsuit, Atlas Aegis posted an advertisement on Facebook seeking former U.S. Special Operations personnel to protect businesses, polls and residences from "looting and destruction." The post has since been deleted.

The lawsuit cites an interview Atlas Aegis Chairman Anthony Caudle gave to The Washington Post confirming the authenticity of the Facebook post.

Caudle tells The Post the armed security personnel would not be seen unless there was a problem and that some of the personnel would be there to protect against Antifa.

“They’re there for protection, that’s it,” he said. “They’re there to make sure that the Antifas don’t try to destroy the election sites.”

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"It's not one specific organization with a headquarters and a president and a chain of command," according to Mark Bray, a history professor at Rutgers University and author of "The Anti-Fascist Handbook." "It's a kind of politics. In a sense, there are plenty of Antifa groups, but Antifa itself is not a group."

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FBI Director Christopher Wray echoed that sentiment to members of the House Homeland Security Committee last month.

"It’s a movement or an ideology," Wray said.

At another congressional hearing, he said, "Antifa is a real thing. It is not a fiction."

According to John Cohen, a former acting undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security and ABC News contributor, this behavior is part of a larger pattern law enforcement is seeing.

"One of the top concerns facing law enforcement during this election cycle is that individuals or groups will ... engage in activities intended to intimidate and suppress people from voting," Cohen said.

He went on, "Departments across the country should be planning on how they are going to deal with these types of situations should they occur in their jurisdictions."

ABC News' Alexander Mallin contributed to this report.

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