SALT LAKE CITY — A man who authorities say headed a Utah militia group pleaded not guilty in federal court Wednesday to charges that he tried to blow up a remote Bureau of Land Management cabin.

William Keebler, 57, is being held in the Weber County Jail on charges of attempting to damage federal property with an explosive and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence. He faces at least 10 years in prison if convicted.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Warner set a trial date for Sept. 12, though he said it's unlikely to be held that soon.

Keebler's lawyer, Lynn Donaldson, and federal prosecutor Andrew Choate told Warner the case is complex and has voluminous amounts of evidence.

Authorities say Keebler headed a militia consisting of seven members, including three undercover FBI agents.

Donaldson argued at a detention hearing last week that the undercover agents built the inert explosive device and placed it against a cabin door last week before handing Keebler the remote detonator.

But prosecutors contend Keebler wanted to use explosives and was also willing to shoot people if anyone came after the group when he detonated the device. He had an AR-15-style gun, a handgun and a lot of ammo, FBI agent Steve Daniels testified at that hearing.

Keebler, who authorities say has ties to Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, took video of an unidentified mosque and cased federal offices such as National Guard facilities before settling on the BLM cabin in northern Arizona, according to Daniels.

Keebler's friends say federal agents set up him up.

U.S. Magistrate Dustin Pead last week declined to release Keebler from jail pending trial, saying he didn't want to wait and see if Keebler would try to hurt people.

In addition to targeting buildings, Keebler told militia members he would take out people if necessary, Pead said. The judge called the bombing attempt "highly premeditated," and said Keebler showed indifference to any bystanders who could have been there.

Donaldson said he is considering whether to appeal Pead's detention order.

The FBI started investigating Keebler after he took part in a 2014 armed standoff with federal officials at Bundy's Nevada ranch over unpaid grazing fees, Daniels said.

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Keebler, of Stockton, Tooele County, considered the grazing restrictions harassment and wanted to blow up federal property to retaliate, charges state.

Keebler was also a friend of Arizona rancher Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, who served as a spokesman for Bundy's son, Ammon Bundy, and other ranchers involved in an armed standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge earlier this year, prosecutors say. Finicum was shot and killed by authorities during a Jan. 26 traffic stop that led to Ammon Bundy's arrest.

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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