SALT LAKE CITY — Prosecutors have charged a Stockton man, accused of plotting to blow up a federal building in northern Arizona.
William Keebler, 57, was charged Wednesday with one count of attempted damage to federal property by means of fire and explosives. He is the self-described leader of the “Patriot’s Defense Force Militia.” Federal prosecutors accuse him of putting an explosive device at a Bureau of Land Management building in Mt. Trumbull, Ariz.
Keebler was present with Cliven Bundy during the standoff with BLM agents in Bunkerville, Nev., authorities wrote in charging documents. He was also an associate of Lavoy Finicum, who was killed in the Oregon standoff.
But those who worked closely with him, said Keebler’s ideals were too radical for most in the patriot community and not representative of what they wanted.
“The reason he was starting his own militia is because no other local militias would let him in,” said the former close associate, who wanted to remain completely anonymous. “As they got to know him, they got to see that he was not somebody that they wanted to be associated with.”
The person said Keebler was violent, and he scared other militia members around him.
“If you spoke out against him, he would threaten to murder you or your family,” the former associate said.
The FBI put undercover agents in Keebler’s militia, agents wrote in an affidavit attached to the charges. They participated in “field training exercises” organized by Keebler, and were planning for “going on the offensive.”
A close friend of Keebler’s said those field training missions weren’t anything to take seriously.
“This militia group is kind of like a grown up Boy Scouts,” said Pete Olson. “They learn how to tie knots, and build fires, and they have coffee out by a bonfire out in the desert and learn how to survive for a weekend. That`s the patriots I know he does.”
Videos on YouTube show the group shooting guns at targets while wearing heavy duty camouflage gear. Olson said he never heard Keebler talk of bomb plots, or blowing up a federal building.
“Do they have weapons? Sure. But they`ve never hurt anything as far as I know,” he said.
He did know that Keebler left for a few days with his group for a tactical training, during the same time the FBI said Keebler tried to carry out the bomb plot.
FBI agents wrote in court documents that on June 21, Keebler planted a bomb at a BLM cabin in Mt. Trumbull, Ariz. with undercover agents at his side. The bomb was a fake.
He allegedly asked an undercover agent to build the bomb, but “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.”
They said Keebler also asked the agent to build a second bomb, that could be used in case there was trouble on the drive there or back.
Court documents state Keebler pressed the ignition button to detonate the “inert explosive” at the BLM cabin. The FBI arrested Keebler in Nephi, on the way back from the operation.
“I`m kind of lost for words,” Olson said, upon hearing the story. “There was never any talk of violence or targets, nothing.”
He said he’s known Keebler to be a peaceful and honest man.
Keebler’s former associate said that’s what most people see when you first meet him. The person described him as charismatic.
“You wouldn’t suspect of him of having really radical or violent tendencies,” the person said. But they said he was someone who wanted to start a war.
FBI agents said Keebler targeted the BLM because, “the BLM was overreaching their authority to implement grazing restrictions on ranchers.” Agents said Keebler claimed that “the government had been allowed to harass people, but the repercussions were going to start.”
Originally, Keebler had a different location in mind for the plan– the BLM office near the Gateway Mall in Salt Lake City, court documents state.
“Keebler met with members of his militia group. During this meeting the group talked about gathering intelligence on potential targets,” FBI agents wrote. After scoping out the downtown location, “Keebler determined this was a poor target due to high commercial and homeless activity in the immediate area.”
Keebler settled on a BLM facility “in the middle of nowhere.”
During an initial appearance in Federal Court in Salt Lake City on Thursday afternoon, a judge assigned Keebler counsel. He’s due back in court on June 29 for a detention hearing, and will remain in jail until then.
Lawyers for the U.S. Attorney said in court they plan to pursue a grand jury indictment. That hearing is scheduled for July 6.