A militia man who participated in a 2014 armed standoff in Nevada was arrested this week after trying to bomb a federal facility in Arizona.
Bill Keebler was arrested in Nephi, Utah, on Wednesday and charged with trying to detonate a pipe bomb at a remote Bureau of Land Management (BLM) facility in rural Arizona. Keebler allegedly tried to bomb the facility as the leader of a Utah-based militia known as the Patriots Defense Force.
Keebler is also an associate of jailed Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who for years refused to pay fees to graze his cattle on federal land, becoming perhaps the most famous figure in the fight over land management.
The story leading to Keebler's arrest begins in 2014, when he allegedly drove hundreds of miles from his home in central Utah to the Nevada border.
In Nevada, he participated in an armed standoff with federal agents that was led by Bundy, who had long refused to pay grazing fees for his cattle.
According to federal court documents, Keebler said he spent 13 days at the standoff, which involved groups of cowboys riding in the desert and participants pointing guns at federal agents.
At some point, Keebler also allegedly became an "associate" of LaVoy Finicum, an Arizona rancher who participated in the Nevada standoff as well. A year and a half later, Finicum would be killed by authorities at the end of a similar standoff in eastern Oregon.
Both the Nevada and Oregon standoffs emerged out of deep-seated resentment across the West over the way the federal government manages land — resentment Keebler reportedly shared.
The vast majority of the land in states such as Nevada and Utah belongs to the federal government, and many in the region feel that increasing regulation and endangered species protections are slowly squeezing them out.
The movement to resist the feds in the West is broadly known as the Sagebrush Rebellion, and Keebler apparently sympathized. According to court documents, he spoke of harassment told other members of his militia that the Bureau of Land Management — a federal land agency that is the target of significant outrage in the rural West — was "overreaching their authority to implement grazing restrictions on ranchers."
"Keebler had opined that the land belonged to 'the people' and could be used responsibly at the American people's discretion," the documents add.
The Facebook page for Keebler's militia describes the group as the "front line of defense when others have failed." Keebler's profile is characterized by discussion of "patriot" causes and his profile picture is an image of the American and Gadsden, or "don't tread on me," flags.
In May 2015, Keebler spoke with other members of his militia about "going on the offensive," the documents state.
Then earlier this year, the group allegedly scouted a BLM office in Salt Lake City as a potential target for an attack. Keebler, however, ultimately decided against bombing the Salt Lake City office "due to high commercial and homeless activity in the area," prosecutors say.
Instead, Keebler allegedly decided to attack a BLM facility in Mount Trumball, a remote corner of Arizona about four and half hours east of Las Vegas. He chose the area because it was in "the middle of nowhere," prosecutors allege.
According to the court documents, he asked another member of the militia to build two pipe bombs — one for attacking the BLM facility, the other "to be used against law enforcement if they got stopped."
Keebler also allegedly said that "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 documents recount.
But unbeknownst to Keebler, the militia member tasked with building the bombs was actually an undercover FBI agent. The court documents state that over the course of several months Keebler spoke with undercover agents in person and over the phone. They also participated in "field training exercises" that Keebler organized that focused on shooting and survival tactics, the documents state.
The FBI's investment in the case is significant because it suggests that even though Bundy standoffs have faded from the headlines, federal law enforcement remains concerned about so-called Sagebrush Rebels.
FBI representatives did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment Thursday.
Keebler allegedly attempted to carry out the attack this week, prompting authorities to make their move.
On Monday, prosecutors say Keebler left his home in Utah and drove south to Arizona.
Late Tuesday, he allegedly planted one of the bombs at the BLM facility. Keebler then allegedly tried to use a remote detonator to set it off, however it FBI-built bomb was was inert.
When that failed, prosecutors say he drove back to the town of Nephi, Utah, where he was arrested Wednesday.
Keebler was charged with one count of attempted damage to federal property by means of fire or explosive, according to the criminal complaint. He is currently being held in Salt Lake County.
Jim Dalrymple is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Jim Dalrymple II at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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