The Council on American-Islamic Relations of Minnesota has accused a private security company of violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by hiring ex-U.S. military Special Operations soldiers to patrol polling places.
The company, Atlas Aegis, posted a job listing in early October looking for former Special Operations personnel to “[staff] security positions in Minnesota during the November Election and beyond to protect election polls.”
“Defendants’ intentional recruitment of armed, highly trained, and elite former military personnel in the context of ‘protecting’ the polls serves no purpose other than to intimidate voters,” CAIR-Minnesota and League of Women Voters of Minnesota alleged in the lawsuit, which they filed on Oct. 20. The groups are asking a federal judge in Minnesota to stop Atlas Aegis from any further recruiting and to order the security company to stay away from polling places from now through Election Day.
As the lawsuit points out, Atlas Aegis chairman Anthony Caudle told the Washington Post earlier this month that the security company is hiring soldiers specifically to target “antifa members” (antifascist demonstrators) and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Armed vigilante groups have already targeted Black Lives Matter supporters at a number of protests around the United States, making Caudle’s threats all the more credible, according to CAIR, which has partnered with local Black Lives Matter chapters in protests against police violence and misconduct.
CAIR-Minnesota executive director Jaylani Hussein said Atlas Aegis likely chose Minnesota because of the state’s large Muslim population, which plays heavily in the minds of extreme right-wing and white nationalist groups.
“Islamophobia is a clear reason why Minnesota is a target,” he told Sojourners. “We know from our history that anti-Muslim networks across the country have focused on Minnesota as the frontline battleground of what they call the Islamic takeover of America.”
In its lawsuit, CAIR said threats made by Atlas Aegis resonate with past acts of intimidation against the state’s Muslim community. In 2017, an event called “Punish a Muslim Day” awarded points to individuals who could show they had harmed Muslims and kept many Muslim Minnesotans from sending their children to school, according to the lawsuit.
“We have been an epicenter for hate organizing across the country,” Hussein said. “This lawsuit is just another effort to make sure we protect [the community] and make sure that voting rights are upheld.”
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who made history in 2006 as the first Muslim elected to Congress, told the Washington Post earlier this month that he requested Atlas Aegis “cease and desist” its plans to patrol polling places in the state, but it is unclear if his office has taken any formal action. A request for comment was not immediately returned.