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Utah militia leader vows to ‘strike back’ in video

SHARE Utah militia leader vows to ‘strike back’ in video
This undated photo from the Salt Lake County Sheriff's office shows William Keebler.

This undated photo from the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s office shows William Keebler.

Salt Lake County Sheriffs Office via Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah militia group leader accused of trying to blow up a federally owned cabin in Arizona talked about his plans to go on the offensive and strike back by damaging government buildings and vehicles in a secretly recorded video played in court Thursday.

The video, taken in March by undercover FBI agents who infiltrated the group, was presented by federal prosecutors during a hearing in Salt Lake City in which William Keebler's latest request to be let out of jail pending trial was rejected.

"They're going to know we've had enough," says Keebler in the video, standing in an RV in a remote part of Utah during a field training mission. "Some of our strikes are going to be loud and dangerous and damaging."

During the clips played, Keebler said that he didn't want to hurt anybody, but he told his group members he wanted to "put the fear of God" in government officials. He advised them to be prepared for a possible gunfight, said he had a hit list of government informants and added: "We're going to start (expletive) people up."

Keebler, 57, is accused of scouting a mosque, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management office and U.S. military facilities as possible targets before choosing the rural Arizona cabin. He was angry about public land policies he saw as federal overreach and had participated in the 2014 armed standoff with federal officials at Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch over unpaid grazing fees, prosecutors say.

Keebler is facing one count of attempting to damage federal property and one count of carrying a firearm during a crime of violence.

Keebler has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

He was arrested after a June 21 incident in the northern Arizona area of Mount Trumbull when Keebler triggered a remote device he believed set off an explosive device at the door of the Bureau of Land Management cabin. The device didn't do any damage because it was inert, built by undercover FBI agents who had infiltrated his small group that otherwise amounted to about four people.

Defense attorney Lynn Donaldson said Keebler is a tough talker but not dangerous as prosecutors are portraying. He said much of what Keebler says should be discounted. He played secretly taped audio from the FBI that shows Keebler insisted the crew stake out the Arizona cabin to make sure nobody was inside. The FBI pushed Keebler into going forward with the plan by providing transportation to Arizona, making the explosive device and insisting the night before that Keebler should be the one to set it off.

Keebler's friend, Pete Olson, said outside court that Keebler isn't the menace prosecution portrays. Olson said Keebler is a nice guy who is a hunter and self-survivalist.

But federal prosecutor Andrew Choate argued Keebler has a deep hatred of the federal government and is a danger to the community, especially BLM employees.

"He's not just a talker," Choate said. "He was willing to detonate a bomb. That's as serious as it gets. … It wasn't a moment of passion. It took a lot of planning."

U.S. District Judge David Sam sided with the prosecution, saying there is overwhelming evidence that Keebler committed a crime of violence and should not be released.

FBI agent Steve Daniels, who led the two-year investigation of Keebler, said during the hearing that Keebler created his own militia group to prepare for the next armed confrontation with federal agents after he came back from the a 2014 armed standoff with federal officials at Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch over unpaid grazing fees.

The federal agency's investigation of Keebler began after the standoff, where Keebler served in a high-ranking command post, Daniels said.

Keebler held regular meetings and field training sessions, and he had scouted "bugout" locations in rural Utah, he said. Keebler also had an AR-15-style gun and a handgun, Daniels said.

Keebler told undercover FBI agents posing as members of the group he would "slit their throats" if he found out they were government informants, Daniels said. Keebler also talked about killing Muslims and refugees and going to the U.S.-Mexico border to kill drug smugglers.