FBI nabs BLM bombing suspect; Wyoming wind resistance; unofficial border patrol

HCN.org news in brief.


On June 22, FBI agents arrested William Keebler, a Utah man, for allegedly orchestrating an attack on a Bureau of Land Management cabin in on Mount Trumbull northwest Arizona. The night before, the Patriots Defense Force militia planted a bomb at the facility with the intention of blowing it apart. Undercover agents apparently thwarted the attack by providing a faulty bomb, which failed to explode. Keebler, who leads the group, allegedly orchestrated the failed attack in response to what he views as government overreach and the mismanagement of natural resources. 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.” 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 public-lands management.

Keebler spent 13 days at the 2014 Bundy standoff, supporting Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy against the federal agents who were cracking down on decades of grazing violations. The felony complaint against Keebler states that he hoped to create a confrontation similar to the Bundy standoff. Keebler also allegedly knew 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. The Mount Trumbull facility is near Finicum’s grazing allotment. The federal government has been criticized for failing to respond adequately to previous illegal acts associated with the Sagebrush Rebellion. Keebler’s arrest and the undercover action that led to it shows that it is now paying close attention to such threats.
-Tay Wiles 

Accused BLM bomb suspect William Keebler, photographed in February at the funeral for Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum in Kanab, Utah, who was killed during the Malheur standoff in Oregon.


"Having a compelling modern vision (for public lands) is probably the best antidote to the militias and legislators who want to take over and privatize our inheritance."

—Bill Hedden, from his essay “In praise of a wild West: A 21st-century vision for Western public lands, including their role in solving challenges like climate change”


In early June, 80 full-time employees received layoff notices from the West Elk Mine in Somerset, one of Colorado’s largest coal producers. The mine is the last still in operation in the North Fork Valley on the state’s Western Slope, where coal mining has been a mainstay of the rural economy for nearly 120 years. Just five years ago, approximately 1,200 people were employed by three coal mines here. Now, fewer than 250 people are. In April, Arch Coal and Peabody Energy announced 465 layoffs at two major Wyoming coal mines, as both filed for bankruptcy. Historically low natural gas prices and stricter environmental regulations make it harder for coal companies, and many have been hurt by questionable business decisions and high executive salaries and bonuses. According to HCN data compiled from local media and energy industry reports, more than 2,600 coal-mining jobs have disappeared since 2012 across the West. For out-of-work coal miners, Western states have done little to provide a safety net; so far, there are no statewide programs that provide re-training, counseling or economic development strategies. Some coal companies offer laid-off workers a severance package, but former miners have few opportunities to find positions that match their previous salaries — on average, more than $80,000 a year.
-Paige Blankenbuehler   

13 TRILLION gallons of groundwater that have been lost from the Colorado River Basin since NASA satellites began collecting data about it in 2004. Heavy groundwater pumping played a large role.
-Sarah Tory 

The Arizona Border Recon was founded in 2011 to help patrol the U.S.-Mexico border, collecting data on border-crossing routes and turning back anyone members deem illegal. The group’s members are largely ex-military or former law enforcement, driven to join for reasons ranging from political ideology to personal experience.

“One man lost two family members to drugs and drug violence, so he decided to head to the border to help disrupt the narco trails.”

—Photographer Cory Johnson

A member of the Arizona Border Recon, which has volunteers from California, Maine, Arizona, and even some from as far away as China and Australia. The group includes teachers, doctors, ex-military, retirees and several other professions.

In 2009, senior editor Jonathan Thompson wrote about Wyoming’s stutter-step adoption of wind power. The unusual alliance of the fossil fuel industry and environmentalists, driven by economic and wildlife concerns, stymied the wind industry’s growth and halted projects in their tracks. The pattern has continued in recent months: the state passed a new wind tax at the same time that it looked to wind to replace coal’s decline.

You say

Dick Marston: “The fossil fuel industry in Wyoming is working hard to thwart new development of wind energy.”

Diane Fishley: Spencer “Schools could gain revenue from wind resources in the same way they are now tapping extractive resources for tax dollars.”

Matt Dyches: “The wind causes a class 10 level of crazy there.” 

Correction: In an earlier version of this piece, 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 recent news reports, that information published in the FBI's criminal complaint was incorrect, and Finicum did not scout the location with Keebler. HCN regrets the error.  

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