A militia leader who was among the armed participants at the 2014 Bunkerville standoff with Cliven Bundy has pleaded guilty to involvement in a separate plot to bomb a remote Bureau of Land Management facility in Arizona.
William Keebler, 59, of Stockton, Utah, admitted in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City on Thursday that he “attempted to detonate an explosive” intended to damage to the BLM’s Mount Trumbull complex, located in a remote corner of Arizona near the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument.
Keebler, a self-styled militia “commander” from Utah, went to the Arizona site to carry out the intended bombing in mid-June 2016, eight months after he and LaVoy Finicum conducted reconnaissance on the BLM facility, accompanied by an undercover FBI agent who took photographs.
The planned bombing was carried out five months after Finicum was fatally shot during an FBI traffic stop carried out during the illegal, January 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon.
Cliven Bundy’s sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and Finicum were central players in that Oregon refuge occupation which came two years after the standoff at Bunkerville, Nevada.
In court Thursday, Keebler pleaded guilty to a single charge of attempted destruction of federal property by use of explosive.
The charge was contained in a just-filed federal information, superseding a two-count indictment filed in July 2016 that charged Keebler with attempted damage to federal property by means of fire or explosive and carrying or possessing a firearm during a crime of violence.
If convicted of that second, federal firearms charge, Keebler faced a minimum-mandatory sentence of five years in prison to be served consecutively with any other sentence.
The plea agreement that Keebler signed is sealed from public inspection, which could mean several things, including his possible cooperation with federal investigators.
He faces one to five years in prison when he’s sentenced in July.
The guilty plea from Keebler marks a change of direction for the FBI and federal prosecutors who have faced assorted legal obstacles in getting criminal convictions against assorted militia, Oath Keeper, III% and other antigovernment activists involved in Bunkerville 2014 and Malheur 2016.
The FBI sting investigation surrounding Keebler also shows how intent federal investigators were in identifying and tracking the scores of participants who showed up at Bunkerville — some of whom pointed loaded weapons at federal agents.
The agents were at Bunkerville in 2014 as the BLM attempted to roundup Cliven Bundy’s cattle — free-roaming on public lands — for non-payment of $1 million in federal grazing fees.
Like Finicum, Keebler spent several days at Bunkerville, but was not among those indicted for involvement in that standoff.
Instead, court documents now show the FBI learned Keebler was the “commander” of a citizen militia group called the Patriots Defense Force (PDF), headquartered in Stockton, Utah. Court documents say the Patriots Defense Militia in Utah has ties with another militia group in Washington State.
In short order, undercover FBI agents infiltrated the militia group, including participating in what its members call “FTX,” so-called field training exercises.
During those militia trainings organized by Keebler, members would “practice shooting at targets and receive instruction regarding firearms and military and survival tactics.”
Court documents also say Keebler and his militia crew expressed rage at the federal government and its agencies managing vast holdings of public lands in the West. Keebler contended the “BLM was overreaching [its] authority to implement grazing restrictions on ranchers” and, court documents say, he wanted his militia cell to be ready to take offensive action.
Kessler expressed the view that federal public lands “belong to the people” and to enforce that philosophy he and the Public Defense Force militia would begin targeting BLM facilities “in the middle of nowhere,” court documents say.
Keebler’s militia group Keebler had scouted out two potential sites for other possible attacks in Salt Lake City, including a local mosque.
“Keebler has continued to recruit, organize, and prepare the PDF for the day when they can take part in an anti-government action with other militia groups similar to the event in Bunkerville,” the documents say.
At a militia meeting in April 2016, an undercover FBI agent showed Keebler a video of a 6-inch pipe bomb blowing up office furniture in the mountains of southern Utah.
Keebler asked the undercover agent to build more bombs – twice the size of those he’d seen in the video — to detonate at the cabins at the Mount Trumbull facility. He also asked for backup pipe bomb to use against law enforcement agents if they attempted to stop the militia group, the documents allege.
“The weekend of June 20, 2016, was chosen because an affiliated militia group in Washington State was conducting training that weekend and Keebler believed that could provide an alibi, court documents say.
At the BLM facility in Arizona, an inert bomb was placed against a door and Keebler was handed a detonation device. He pushed the detonator button multiple times but left dejectedly when the device failed to explode. He drove back to Utah where he was arrested by the FBI the next day.