Right-wing militant charged for planting a bomb at BLM building

A federal felony complaint reveals that the feds are continuing to investigate extremism on public lands.

 

On the night of June 21, members of the Patriots Defense Force militia allegedly planted a bomb at a Bureau of Land Management cabin in Mount Trumbull, in northwest Arizona, with the intention of blowing the building apart. A Utah man, William Keebler, who leads the group, apparently orchestrated the failed attack in response to what he views as federal government overreach and the mismanagement of natural resources.

Undercover FBI agents first infiltrated the Stockton, Utah-based militia group several months ago. Agents apparently thwarted the attack by providing a faulty bomb, which failed to explode. FBI agents arrested Keebler on Wednesday in Nephi, Utah.

Bill Keebler, a varmint hunting outfitter, specializes in coyote hunting and often hunts the basins and mountain ranges near Vernon, Utah. He has been accused of attempting to use an explosive device at a BLM facility in Arizona.
Al Hartmann / The Salt Lake Tribune / AP Photo

Court documents state that Keebler intended to blow up government vehicles and buildings, not people, though he also wanted to create a second bomb that might be “used against law enforcement if they got stopped while driving.” Keebler had also considered bombing a BLM office near the Gateway Mall in Salt Lake City, but decided on the more remote Arizona location instead. The Mount Trumbull facility is near the grazing allotment of LaVoy Finicum, the activist who was shot and killed by Oregon state police in a confrontation at the end of the armed occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year. Keebler knew Finicum, according to the federal complaint.  

Keebler trained the undercover agents in target shooting and military and survival skills, in preparation for an “anti-government action.” The feds have been criticized for not acting quickly or forcefully enough to extremists occupying public land, such as when Cliven Bundy and armed militia members threatened to kill federal employees during the 2014 standoff with the BLM in Nevada, or when Bundy’s son Ammon Bundy led the Malheur occupation. The undercover action shows that the federal government is, at least now, paying close attention to these threats. Meanwhile, the Bundys were arrested in February and now await trial.

The felony complaint against Keebler states that he hoped to create a confrontation similar to the 2014 Bundy standoff. Keebler was at the Bundy Ranch protest for 13 days; his recent action shows the extent to which the Bundy standoff continues to inspire violence. According to court documents, “Keebler had previously said the BLM was overreaching their authority to implement grazing restrictions on ranchers.”

Keebler, who has been an outdoors outfitter and coyote hunter, has a personal Facebook page that reveals a smattering of political viewpoints that includes a fear of Muslims, immigrants and the federal government. His posts also show support for Sheriff Danny Perkins of Garfield County, Utah, who is known for his Constitutionalist views and for threatening to arrest federal rangers if they block public access to certain roads in his area.  

This recent bombing plot is part of a long history of violent threats toward federal-lands agency employees that stems from deep-rooted disputes over how lands should be managed. In 1995, U.S. Forest Service district ranger Guy Pence was the target of two bomb attacks in Nevada. The agency moved Pence to a position in Idaho for his personal safety and no arrests were made in the case. For more High Country News reporting on similar incidents, see our 2014 story “Defuse the West.”

Keebler was expected to appear in U.S. District court on Thursday, charged with the felony of attempted damage to federal property by means of fire or explosive.

 If you know of similar incidents of violence or threats on public lands targeting federal land agencies, please consider using our confidential tip form.

Editor's note: We stated that William Keebler, the Utah man charged in June with attempting to blow up a BLM building in Arizona, had previously scouted the site with Lavoy Finicum, a spokesman for the occupiers at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon earlier this year. According to court statements from FBI agent Steve Daniels, that information published in the agency's criminal complaint was incorrect, and Finicum was not present for that scouting of the location with Keebler. HCN regrets the error.  

Tay Wiles is the deputy editor - digital of High Country News and is based in Paonia, Colorado.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • EVENTS AND ANNUAL FUND COORDINATOR
    The Events and Annual Fund Coordinator is responsible for managing and coordinating the Henry's Fork Foundation's fundraising events for growing the membership base, renewing and...