This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Members of a Tooele County militia scouted out a Salt Lake County mosque for a possible attack and their leader talked about wall-penetrating ammunition and killing Muslims, an FBI agent said Thursday.
Special Agent Steve Daniels testified at a federal court hearing Thursday about the activities of William Keebler, 57, who was arrested in June and charged with offenses connected to his alleged effort to blow up a remote cabin owned by the federal government.
Keebler commanded a small anti-government militia group called the Patriots Defense Force, also known as Patriots of America, which became the object of an FBI investigation about two years ago after Keebler took a high-profile role in the standoff between militias and supporters at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada.
Two undercover FBI agents infiltrated Keebler's group and had an informant inside.
Daniels said the group began to scope out targets for possible attacks, including a mosque and some facilities belonging to the Bureau of Land Management, the agency involved in the dispute over cattle grazing on public lands by rancher Cliven Bundy.
The group drove to a Salt Lake County mosque it codenamed Mike 1 to examine it as a possible target. While there, Keebler talked about sniper positions, Daniels said.
Keebler "said he had munitions that would penetrate the walls of the mosque," said Daniels, a member of the local FBI counterterrorism squad, who led the investigation.
Daniels said Keebler in recorded conversations "talked about Muslims and killing them."
Keebler was seeking release from jail until his case is resolved, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Choate told U.S. District Judge David Sam that Keebler was too dangerous to be let out.
"There's overwhelming evidence, we believe, that he's a danger to the community, to the citizens of the United States," Choate said.
One of Keebler's court-appointed attorneys, Lynn Donaldson, pointed out that of the eight members of the militia, two were undercover FBI agents and one was a government informant. Donaldson also mentioned that the "bomb" used on the cabin was actually a dud that came from one of the agents.
"We know the FBI created the device and showed him how to detonate it," Donaldson said. "They transported him down there."
Keebler was someone "who talked tough," but who also "didn't want anyone to get hurt," Donaldson said.
Sam ordered that Keebler be kept in jail pending trial, saying, "The evidence is very substantial and overwhelming in support of detention."
Keebler has been in jail since his arrest at a gas station in Nephi after he allegedly thought he had set off a bomb at a BLM cabin just across the Utah border from Colorado City in the Mt. Trumbull area of northern Arizona.
Keebler formed his group Patriots of America after he returned in 2014 from the Nevada Bundy Ranch confrontation that erupted when the BLM tried to seize Bundy's cattle because of unpaid grazing fees.
He left another group after its leader told him Muslims could be members as long as they paid their dues, Daniels said.
Keebler conducted training exercises in Tooele County that included firearms, paramilitary tactics and instruction on setting booby traps and ambushes, Daniels said, and he also traveled to militia events in Arizona, Washington state and Oregon.
In one training session south of Stockton, an FBI agent recorded a meeting in an RV during which Keebler addressed the participants. Prosecutors played segments of the video in court.
"I'm going to trust everybody in this room right now," Keebler says, not knowing that the RV had been provided by the FBI and that agents were recording.
He then announced that he would be searching for BLM-owned targets.
"I'm going to arrange to have a couple of them severely damaged," he says, adding, "We're not going to kill anybody, but we're going to start putting the fear of God in them."
Keebler then talked about coordinated attacks involving different states.
"We're striking back," he said.
Daniels said the FBI had created a "legend" for one of their agents, a back story as an explosives expert for a mining company, in case Keebler tried to seek someone to make a bomb.
The agent produced two "bombs" at Keebler's request, one of them "radio controlled" that could be triggered from afar, Daniels said.
The undercover agents and the person cooperating with the agency accompanied Keebler to the Mt. Trumbull cabins that were unoccupied, except for a 10-member FBI SWAT team.
One of the undercover agents placed the bomb on the door of a cabin at Keebler's request and then found him a distance away, handed him the triggering device and instructed him to push a button three times.
When he did, an explosion went off.
But Daniels said the explosion actually was a concussion grenade set off by a member of a SWAT team.
Keebler and an agent left the scene in a pickup truck. When they stopped at a Nephi gas station, Keebler was arrested as he walked, unarmed except for knife, toward a convenience store, Daniels said. Keebler did not resist arrest.