ST. GEORGE – A Tooele County man believed to be an associate of Cliven Bundy and Lavoy Finicum has been arrested after allegedly trying to blow up a Bureau of Land Management building at Mt. Trumbull on the Arizona Strip.
William Keebler, the head of the citizen militia group Patriots Defense Force, was arrested Wednesday in Nephi and appeared in U.S. District court Thursday. He is being charged with trying to blow up federal property.
Keebler unknowingly assigned an undercover FBI agent to build two explosive devices, a probable cause statement filed in support of the arrest said. One device was be used against an unoccupied building and the other to be used against law enforcement if members of the group were stopped going to or from Mt. Trumbull, the document states.
The planned attack happened late June 21 when an inert explosive device was placed against the door of the BLM cabin and Keebler pressed the remote detonation device multiple times.
“We are appalled by the alleged activities of Mr. William Keebler,” BLM spokeswoman Kimberly Brubeck said in an emailed response to questions. “Fortunately, no one was hurt, and the BLM facility at Mt. Trumbull, Arizona, was not damaged. We are cooperating with the Department of Justice in the on-going investigation.”
Brubeck would not comment further and said all questions about the case are being referred to the Department of Justice. Arizona Strip BLM officials could not comment on the matter either.
Keebler is the commander of the Patriots Defense Force headquartered in Stockton, according to court documents, and was present during the armed standoff in Bunkerville, Nevada, in 2014.
Keebler was also an associate of Lavoy Finicum, an Arizona rancher who participated in a takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in January and was shot by law enforcement.
For several months before the Mt. Trumbull incident, FBI undercover employees had been infiltrating the militia, participating in field training exercises organized by Keebler.
According to the probable cause statement, Keebler allegedly continued to recruit, organize, and prepare the (Patriots Defense Force) for the day when the group can take part in an anti-government action with other militia groups similar to the event in Bunkerville, Nevada.
On May 15, 2015, Keebler talked to militia members about putting teams together and “going on the offensive.” In February of 2016, Keebler met with the militia and discussed potential targets, the statement alleges.
Eventually, Keebler decided to target BLM facilities in the “middle of nowhere,” intending to damage buildings or vehicles. He decided on a BLM facility located at Mount Trumbull; Keebler and Finicum had conducted reconnaissance on the facility in October of 2015.
“Keebler made it clear he didn’t plan on blowing people up for now, but he wanted his group to be prepared to escalate things, and take people out if necessary,” the statement said.
In April of 2016, the militia member and undercover agent was asked by Keebler to build two bombs, one with a remote control device capable of being detonated by a walkie-talkie. It was to be placed near one of the cabins at the Mt. Trumbull BLM facility. The other was to be ignited with a fuse and was for use against law enforcement if needed, according to the statement.
At least one militia group does not agree with Keebler and the Patriots Defense Force.
The United Sentinel Militia of Utah “strongly condemned” Keebler’s actions in a statement on its Facebook page. The Salt Lake City-based group describes itself as a volunteer force, trained to help the community in the wake of natural disasters and to defend the state of Utah and the United States if needed.
“Mr. Keebler does not represent any Militia that stays within the scope set out in the Constitution. His actions both past and present have been motivated by hate and an irrational agenda for selfish gain,” the organization states.
Keebler is charged with one felony count of attempting to damage federal property by means of fire or explosive. A detention hearing is set for Wednesday and Keebler’s initial court appearance is scheduled for July 6 before Judge Paul M. Warner. He will be represented by public defender L. Clark Donaldson.
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