SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah militia group leader accused of trying to blow up a federally owned cabin in rural Arizona also scouted mosques and U.S. military facilities as possible targets, an FBI agent testified on Wednesday.
William 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 remote cabin, FBI agent Steve Daniels said.
Keebler's militia had seven members, including three who were actually undercover FBI agents, Daniels said.
Undercover agents built the inert explosive device and placed it against a cabin door last week before handing Keebler the remote detonator, defense attorney Lynn Donaldson pointed out. Some of Keebler's so-called recognizance involved simply driving by offices, he said.
"Not liking a particular religion or minority group or action of the federal government is not illegal, it's just not politically correct," said Donaldson.
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 "lots of ammo," Daniels said.
"It doesn't get too much more serious than detonating a bomb," said prosecutor Andrew Choate.
Wednesday's hearing came as U.S. Magistrate Judge Dustin Pead considers whether to keep Keebler in jail ahead of trial on one count of attempting to damage federal property with an explosive. He's expected to decide after reviewing recordings at the request of the defense.
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.
Keebler considered the grazing restrictions harassment, and wanted to blow up federal property to retaliate, charges state. The cabin the group eventually settled on is in the northern Arizona area of Mt. Trumbull.
Keebler was also an associate 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.
Keebler raises his own chickens and rabbits on a farm in Stockton, Utah, about 40 west of Salt Lake City, and suffers from several health problems, Donaldson said. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.