A Utah militia leader with ties to the militant killed during the Bundy-led armed standoff in Oregon was charged Wednesday with allegedly trying to detonate homemade bombs at a Bureau of Land Management building in Arizona to escalate a decades-old struggle over public lands.
According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Utah, William Keebler, 57, was arrested Wednesday morning and charged with attempting to use explosives to destroy property owned by the federal government and managed by the Department of Interior agency.
FBI agents infiltrated Keebler’s Patriots Defense Force militia group, where members trained to go “on the offensive” with their “anti-government action,” according to the complaint. The document alleges Keebler scouted a Bureau of Land Management office building near the Gateway Mall in Salt Lake City as a potential target, but decided not to move forward because of commercial activity and homeless persons in the area.
He instead set his sights on a BLM building in Mount Trumbull, Arizona, an area the complaint alleges he chose for its “middle of nowhere” location.
“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 complaint read.
The spot also had multiple ties to the anti-government land rights movement. Mount Trumbull was a town founded in the early 1900s by Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s great-grandfather, a Mormon settler in the area, and is near the publicly owned land where self-styled militiaman LaVoy Finicum’s cattle still graze, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
The complaint alleged Keebler surveyed the locale in October 2015 with Finicum, who was killed in January when he refused to surrender to law enforcement at a roadway police checkpoint during the militants’ armed occupation of a rural Oregon wildlife refuge. Keebler had earlier tasked undercover agents with assembling two bombs for the operation, the complaint alleged, one to to be placed at the BLM cabins and another to be used on law enforcement if they were stopped.
Late Saturday evening, an inert explosive device was positioned at the door of one of the BLM’s cabins in Mount Trumbull. Once it was in place, Keebler was handed a detonation device and allegedly pushed the button to detonate the explosives multiple times. He then returned to Utah, where he was arrested Wednesday.
Read the full complaint below:
This post has been updated.