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Aug 10, 2019

Bundyville revealed

Co-produced with PRX Logo

A bombing in rural Nevada you’ve probably never heard of. A plot to blow up a government building. These two cases are part of the trail award-winning journalist Leah Sotille follows in season two of “Bundyville.” She investigates how supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy went on to plan and carry out acts of terror.

Bundy believes the federal government should have no control over public lands, so he refused to pay grazing fees. In 2014, the Bureau of Land Management came to seize some of his cattle as payment. That’s when Bundy launched an armed standoff. Charges against him and his family eventually were dismissed. But the people they inspired are continuing to act on his anti-government philosophy.

Reveal teams up with the podcast series, produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting and Longreads, to see how the right-wing doctrine and violence has spread.

Dig Deeper

Credits

This week’s show was produced in partnershop with “Bundyville” from Longreads and Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Many thanks to: OPB editors Ryan Haas and Anna Griffin; Longreads editors Mike Dang and Kelly Stout; and, fact-checker Matt Giles.

Our executive producer Kevin Sullivan edited today’s show, with help from Reveal’s Emily Harris and Najib Aminy.

Our production manager is Mwende Hinojosa. Our sound design team is Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Found, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.
Al Letson: Hey hey hey, it's Al Letson, your favorite host in all of podcastom. That's right I just made up a word, podcastom. But it's mine, TM. Remember that next time you hear it. So on this week's episode of Reveal, our reporters dug in deep to find out the manipulative tactics that companies like Facebook are using to make money off of vulnerable users, including kids. To bring you this story our reporters spent months digging through court documents, interviewing people, and trying to get to the bottom of it.

 

Al Letson: Last month we brought you a story about the connection between hundreds of law enforcement officials and online hate groups. Since we first aired that story more than 50 police departments around the country have launched internal investigations and hundreds of local journalists have signed onto our reporting network to further the coverage in those cities. What I'm getting at is, what we do here takes time and money, but we do it because want our stories to protect people and change lives for the better. And they do. We need you to help power this machine. So I'm asking you to step up and make a donation that will ensure that we can keep holding powerful institutions and individuals accountable.

 

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Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal, I'm Al Letson. This month two mass shootings happened within hours of each other, over 30 people were killed. Afterwards people asked a familiar question, how could this be happening? Today we're going to be tackling that question by looking at how a group of people with extremist ideas embraced violence to get their way, and how their beliefs have spread. And in some ways become more dangerous. The story takes us back to January 2016, the sun in shining in the sky, but the air is frigid in a small Oregon town. A man in a cowboy hat and a thick winter flannel climbs up a snowbank at the edge of a grocery store parking lot and calls out to a crowd of his supporters.

 

Ammon Bundy: I'm asking you to follow me and go to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and we're going to make a hard stand.

 

Al Letson: That's Ammon Bundy, his short speech on that snowbank kicked off a six week armed standoff with the federal government in a remote bird sanctuary in the middle of winter.

 

Ammon Bundy: It's crucial that you understand what's going on here, what this issue is truly about. It's about our federal government taking over private property.

 

Al Letson: This is Bundy's second armed standoff. He and his supporters believe that the federal government has no right to public lands and should turn them over to the states. Ammon's father, Cliven Bundy had for decades used public land to graze his cattle, but refused to pay the federal fees. In 2014, the federal government came to collect. And that ended in the first armed standoff with the Bundy's at their ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada.

 

Al Letson: We take you back to these standoffs because they lead directly to our story today. How anti government groups and individuals that surface to support the Bundy's didn't go away when the Bundy's did. Instead, over the past few years people within those groups have become more emboldened and willing to use violence to get what they want. Today, we're teaming up with the Bundyville, produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting and Longreads to see how the violence that started with the Bundy's has spread. Bundyville's host, Leah Sottile joins me now. Hey Leah.

 

Leah Sottile: Hey, how's it going?

 

Al Letson: So before we get to season two, remind us, what happened to the Bundy's after those two standoffs came to an end.

 

Leah Sottile: Both of those ended with these trials that a lot of critics would say the government botched. So with the Nevada case they ended in a mistrial, and in Oregon they ended in acquittals for them Bundy brothers and their co-defendants.

 

Al Letson: So what's motivating the Bundy's? I mean, how do they get to the point of the first standoff?

 

Leah Sottile: I think to understand the Bundy family you kind of have to understand that where they come from there's a real anti government sentiment that a lot of people share. You can look to when the Mormon's came west in the 1800s. Part of the reason they did that was to get away from the federal government, but then the government came to them, and sort of started this idea that a lot of Morons in that area feel that they were persecuted for their religion by the government. So all of this kind of led to Cliven Bundy standing off with the government in 2014.

 

Al Letson: So Leah, how did those religious beliefs drive this confrontation with the federal government?

 

Leah Sottile: The Bundy's hold a pretty specific set of fringe religious beliefs that a lot of Mormons would not agree with, and in fact, the mainstream Mormon church in Salt Lake City wouldn't agree with. So my reporting led me to this thing called the white horse prophecy, which is basically this kind of urban legend among Mormon communities that some people believe Joseph Smith, the prophet of the church, told early Mormons that they would settle in the Rocky Mountains and that one day the US Constitution would hang by a thread and it would be up to the Mormon people to save that from ruin.

 

Leah Sottile: Now the church in Salt Lake doesn't think this is actually a real prophecy, but the Bundy family does, and a lot of other people in these kind of anti government communities also believe that. They believe that their fight against the government is them actually saving the Constitution from ruin.

 

Al Letson: So where do the Bundy's motivations and beliefs overlap with other groups that you've been tracking since?

 

Leah Sottile: If you look at the anti government movement, you might remember things like Ruby Ridge and the Waco standoff with the Branch Davidians. And both of those events ended and people dying at the hands of the government. A lot of those were kids. So the anti government groups use those instances as recruitment tools, times when they can say, look the federal government will come after people who live differently or do things their own way. And they kind of turn a blind eye to the laws that were being broken by those people involved in Ruby Ridge and Waco.

 

Leah Sottile: So those events really informed Cliven Bundy in his belief that the government was after people. So then when they came to collect his grazing fees he was seeing it as just the next chapter of Ruby Ridge and Waco.

 

Al Letson: But a more recent turning point happened at the second Bundy standoff, there was a shooting of one of the leaders of the occupation. And that's gone on to inspire people to this day.

 

Leah Sottile: Yeah, that man that was killed during the occupation was a guy named LaVoy Finicum. During the occupation authorities had orchestrated a traffic stop in a rural area with no cell reception where they could easily arrest the leaders of the occupation. So they pull over these two cars and they arrest Ammon Bundy, they arrest several other people, but LaVoy Finicum decided to drive away from that traffic stop. And actually tried to blow through a roadblock, drive around it into the snow. And then he jumped out of the car.

 

Al Letson: All of that was caught on tape, and you narrate it for us in the first season on Bundyville. The scene picks up right after LaVoy Finicum jumps out of his car. And a warning, this is tape of a police shooting.

 

LaVoy Finicum: Go ahead and shoot me.

 

Leah Sottile: Someone fires two shots that hit the truck.

 

LaVoy Finicum: Boom. [inaudible 00:08:03].

 

Leah Sottile: He stumbles through knee deep snow. He keeps shouting.

 

LaVoy Finicum: You're going to have to shoot me.

 

Leah Sottile: His hands are up at first, then he reaches for his jacket pocket. Inside is a loaded handgun. He puts his hands up again and he reaches. Hands up, reach. Finally, police do shoot him.

 

Leah Sottile: He never managed to grab the gun.

 

Al Letson: So investigators released this video in two different vantage points. One was ariel footage from a law enforcement drone, the other was taken by a smart phone by people inside the cab of the truck. So watching that video you see everything unfold like you're there. How did this incident add more fuel to the fire for the anti government movement?

 

Leah Sottile: Well the response was almost immediate. Shortly after the shooting a memorial popped up at the snowbank where people who supported the Bundy's and the anti government movement talked about it like it was a murder or an assassination, or kind of this carefully orchestrated hit by the government on a member of the patriot movement. Even though it was so clear from that footage that you saw these two angles and he's saying, you're going to have to shoot me, that it was a justified police shooting.

 

Leah Sottile: So in his death I really found in my months, even years of investigation that it becomes really intertwined with the militia groups and these anti government groups that showed up at the Bundy's standoffs and it became this target for their anger.

 

Al Letson: And that's where you pick up with season two, tracking those other groups. Tell us a little about them. Like who they are, and what are they doing?

 

Leah Sottile: Sure, both of the Bundy's high profile standoffs you saw groups like the Oath Keepers, which is one of the largest most well known militias across the country came to their side. You saw another militia group called the 3 Percenters, chapters from nearby states coming to their side. On my reporting I started to see these other threats picking up of white supremacy and violence and these ideologies that had been there long before these two standoffs.

 

Al Letson: I think it's important to note that groups like the Oath Keepers were actually in Charlottesville taking the side of the alt right during the protest that happened there.

 

Leah Sottile: Yeah, and I think that these are groups that generally wouldn't be very fired out about ranching, right? The Bundy's sort of provided a great platform to fight the government, and that's often I think what the take away that my reporting has found is that it has very little to do with the Constitution. It has very little to do with ranching. It oftentimes is just looking for new ways to fight off the government and to force a belief system like what we saw at Charlottesville on display.

 

Al Letson: That's Leah Sottile, host of the podcast series Bundyville. How does that belief system inspire violence? When we come back, Leah investigates that by heading to the scene of a bombing in Nevada.

 

Tiffany Cluff: He said he was going to blow the house up. He said his car was full of explosives and he's going to blow my house up.

 

Al Letson: That's coming up on Reveal, from the Center For Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. Today we're teaming up with the creators of the podcast Bundyville from Oregon Public Broadcasting and Longreads. Their second season dropped a couple weeks ago and they're investigating some acts of domestic terror that are connected to the Bundy's supporters. Season two begins with a bombing in the summer of 2016 that I bet you never heard of.

 

Al Letson: A warning before we get started, this story contains some violent scenes. Here's Bundyville host Leah Sottile.

 

Leah Sottile: Panaca is this gravely town on the Nevada side of the border with Utah about three hours north of Las Vegas. A desert outpost that was founded in the 1860s by Mormon pioneers. Panaca is God country and such a western cliché that I literally watched a tumbleweed roll down the middle of the street. Not much happens here, but that wasn't the case on July 13, 2016.

 

911 Operator: 911, what is your emergency?

 

Tiffany Cluff: So [inaudible 00:12:38].

 

911 Operator: Ma'am. Ma'am, take a breath for me, okay? And I can barely understand you.

 

Tiffany Cluff: [inaudible] blow it up. He said he was going to blow it up.

 

911 Operator: He said he was going to kill you?

 

Tiffany Cluff: He said he was going to blow the house up. He said his car was full of explosives and he was going to blow my house up.

 

911 Operator: Okay, are you away from the home?

 

Leah Sottile: Tiffany Cluff was inside her house with her three daughters when a man came to the door, said he was going to blow her house up. She should get the kids and leave. The man then lit the fuse on the bomb he had put inside the house, walked to his car, got inside, lit another bomb and shot himself in the head. Then everything blew up.

 

911 Operator: Ma'am?

 

Tiffany Cluff: He just blew this house up. He just blew my house up.

 

Leah Sottile: Shrapnel went everywhere, curving in long arcs over the town. Just down the street the county Sheriff saw black smoke and a mushroom cloud billowing into the sky.

 

911 Operator: Give me just a moment, but I do need some additional information from you, okay?

 

Tiffany Cluff: Please.

 

911 Operator: Okay, I need some help up here.

 

Kerry Lee: So we have one of our dispatch at the time, she calls back into the jail, I need help up here right now. When you start hearing 911 starts going crazy all the lines tied up, all the 911 lines, all the administrative lines also just ... All you got was a busy signal if you tried to call in.

 

Leah Sottile: That's Lincoln county Sheriff Kerry Lee, he lives down the street. He had no idea what was going on or who was involved. But Tiffany Cluff, she knew the bomber.

 

Tiffany Cluff: The guy who came, his name was Glen Jones.

 

911 Operator: Glen Jones is who came into your house?

 

Tiffany Cluff: He said he was going to kill himself and blow up our house.

 

Leah Sottile: Sheriff Lee was just standing in his yard with his dog when it happened, so he yanked his dog inside, grabbed the keys to his patrol rig, and drove toward the chaos.

 

Kerry Lee: And I literally felt it in my chest, I felt a concussion in my chest, then I could see the mushroom cloud coming up over the air I thought, what in the world? And I could hear the power ...

 

Leah Sottile: This was the last place that anyone expected a bomb to go off. Tiffany Cluff recognized the bomber, but no one else had any idea what was going on. It was Sheriff Lee's job to respond and figure it out.

 

Kerry Lee: So I grabbed the keys to my patrol rig and by the time I got to my patrol car the second explosion happened.

 

Leah Sottile: And the more he told us about it, the crazier the story got.

 

Kerry Lee: We pulled up, and of course people from the community were already pulling their vehicles in. We actually had to weave through cars to get into where the house is. And we were waved, hey stop, stop, stop you're going to run over body parts. I said, what? What do you mean run over body parts? And that's when they said, look over there. I look over there and there was a set of legs from the belt down laying beside the road.

 

Leah Sottile: The first bomb blew up the house of Tiffany and her husband Josh Cluff, they were nurses in town and lived there with their kids. Josh wasn't home when it happened and the rest of the family escaped just in time. The second bomb was in a car parked next to the house, and the man inside, the bomber, was Glen Jones a former nurse who used to work with Josh. Jones was the only person hurt in the bombing, but when Sheriff Lee pulled up to the scene he had no way of knowing that. And it was absolute mayhem.

 

Kerry Lee: I mean, and like I said there was body parts everywhere.

 

Leah Sottile: Lee is also the town's coroner, and when he pulled up to the scene of the bombing he thought his top priority was identifying whoever got hurt, but he can't really identify someone by just their legs, so he started looking for the rest of the body.

 

Kerry Lee: And we did not actually find the upper torso, which is what we needed for identification. I don't care about the legs, I mean I do care, but I need the torso, I need the legs, I mean I need fingerprints, I need dental records, I need that type of stuff to be able to identify somebody.

 

Leah Sottile: It took investigators about 14 hours to find the top half of Glen Jones, and when they did he wasn't laid out on his back and easy to identify.

 

Kerry Lee: And he was in a tree in the neighbor's yard. Yeah. Bizarre as it is.

 

Leah Sottile: But even more bizarre was that when they found the body it had these strange tattoos on it.

 

Kerry Lee: During the coroner's investigation he was identified by a couple of ways. We were able to get finger prints, we were able to get some dental. And crazy enough, tattooed on his chest said DNR, which, do not resuscitate. And the phone number for the victim of the house. His phone number. Very bizarre.

 

Ryan Haas: Can I ask a stupid question?

 

Leah Sottile: That's my producer Ryan Haas.

 

Ryan Haas: When you guys saw the phone number tattooed, did you call the number?

 

Kerry Lee: You know that's a really good question. I think we looked it up in our system and saw that it belonged to Josh.

 

Leah Sottile: Ask someone in Panaca about Glen Jones and they'll say they knew him, nice guy, blew up a house one time. It was strange and sad. More than one Panacan tells me, they wouldn't want to speculate about why a bombing occurred in their town, but then offer an opinion anyway. For the most part people think the bomb could have been a loud messy expression of a workplace grievance between Glen Jones and Josh Cluff. Josh at one time was Glen's boss at the local hospital and they were good friends. Glen even helped Josh build his house in Panaca.

 

Leah Sottile: But several months before the bombing Glen left his job at the hospital. Around the same time he also lost his nursing license for mishandling morphine. So people think, maybe Glen blamed Josh.

 

Leah Sottile: Sheriff Lee tells me within hours of the bombing it became an FBI investigation.

 

Kerry Lee: We also had the bomb squad and everything from Las Vega. They brought up cadaver sniffing dogs, I mean they brought up their robot. It was a whole thing. I mean, it was a big show the next day.

 

Leah Sottile: And all the FBI told me when I asked for comment was that it's "The policy of the FBI not to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation." It was clear nobody in town could really answer my questions. And outside of Panaca not many people know about it. The national news didn't cover it. This was a bombing on American soil. And sure, no one was hurt except the bomber himself, but it's hard to imagine if he'd been brown or black or anyone else but a white guy that this would have been a non-story.

 

Leah Sottile: It's only after I left Panaca that I found a possible answer. An answer that pointed to something beyond a petty disagreement between coworkers.

 

Leah Sottile: So after visiting Panaca I started calling around to try to get answers. I found out that Glen Jones got some training in field artillery during his 11 years in the Army and National Guard. But he never saw combat. I also learned that he had been living in Kingman, Arizona in an RV park right before the bombing happened. After the bombing the Kingman police department raided Glen Jones's RV, they found bomb making materials inside and a few spiral bound journals with Jones's name on the cover. Inside one there were diagrams for a bomb.

 

Leah Sottile: One detective said, "The entries indicated that Glen Jones had been approached by a subject identified as Josh who offered to pay him to construct an explosive device. The intended target," that officer wrote, "was identified as Fourth of July BLM Field Office." That's the bureau of land management, the same federal government agency that got into the initial dispute with the Bundy's. But here's where things get murky, because the fourth of July came and went that year and nothing happened. And by July 13th Jones had decided instead to target Josh Cluff. Here's Sheriff Lee.

 

Kerry Lee: I truly still to this day don't truly know what the victim and the suspect's true relationship was. I know they were friends, at one point in time they were very good friends.

 

Leah Sottile: I wondered if there was a chance Jones or Cluff might have had some beef with the federal government. Some reason they would have wanted to bomb a BLM field office. And it turned out, there was. It goes back to the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, when one of the group's leaders, LaVoy Finicum was shot and killed while trying to avoid that police barricade in 2016.

 

Speaker 9: FBI killed LaVoy, FBI killed LaVoy.

 

Speaker 10: He was shot in the back. He had his hands in the air.

 

Speaker 11: LaVoy's blood is on your hands.

 

Leah Sottile: When the bomb went off in Nevada at the Cluff home, Finicum was already dead and the patriot movement was talking about him as a martyr, proof of a tyrannical government murdering Americans. Everywhere you look in the patriot movement you'll see Finicum's cattle brand on hats, shirts, tattoos, belt buckles, flags, bumper stickers. People write songs about him.

 

Speaker 12: [singing 00:22:06].

 

Leah Sottile: He's become the figurehead of a movement. In their report Kingman police wrote that there was an entry in Jones's notebook indicating that LaVoy Finicum's death was a possible motive for the planned attack on the BLM office, and that, "Josh is the cousin of LaVoy Finicum." I was able to confirm that Josh Cluff is related to Finicum, but that's not proof he was involved, so I asked Sheriff Lee. Was Cluff angry at the government over his cousin's death? He said he couldn't say, but he told us a story about a time way before the bombing that Lee did see an anti government side to Cluff. He didn't want to give us too many details, since it involved someone having a medical crisis.

 

Leah Sottile: But the gist was that at the hospital Sheriff Lee asked Cluff to help give medical attention to someone who couldn't decide to ask for it themselves. And Cluff wasn't having it. He got really angry, started yelling.

 

Kerry Lee: A little bit of an eye opening about how Josh felt about government overreach.

 

Leah Sottile: It's unclear whether Cluff and Jones were working together to bomb the BLM building at first and something went wrong. Or if Jones was working alone and decided to bomb Cluff's house for some other reason. So what happened between the two of them? Cluff has never given any straight answers about Jones or LaVoy, or a bomb at a BLM office. Shortly after the bombing the Cluff's packed up what few belongings they could salvage and moved to Idaho.

 

Speaker 13: Again, police have not said that the family has done anything wrong, they only confirmed that they did in fact serve-

 

Leah Sottile: I got in touch with Cluff on Facebook and asked for an interview. Finally, after a few messages he wrote back. "We are just happy and not trying to dig up the past." Months later I found an email forum, I reached out again and I tried one more time to get Cluff to say something. I sent him the evidence I had and asked whether the bombing was about his cousin, LaVoy Finicum. He responded, "Those were terrible times for my family, which we are trying to move past. FBI did their due diligence and cleared me of any involvement. Have a nice night, and please be respectful of what my family has gone through."

 

Leah Sottile: So here's what we know, Glen Jones was planning to bomb a BLM building and it appeared to have begun as a response to the death of LaVoy Finicum. Jones's plot was a continuation of the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which was itself a ripple effect of the standoff at Bundy ranch. But then for some reason Jones bombed Cluff's house instead of the BLM building.

 

Leah Sottile: In the years since the Bundy's high profile standoffs more acts of extremist violence have been popping up in the news. They are necessarily inspired by the patriot movement, but some of them share some of the same anti government and white supremacist beliefs.

 

Speaker 14: Let's turn to the news and the man suspected of sending a wave of mail bombs across the country is in handcuffs tonight.

 

Leah Sottile: Like a Florida man who mailed bombs to prominent liberals like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and George Soros because he thinks they're a part of a shadowy cabal.

 

Speaker 14: -accused of sending all those devices to critics of President Donald Trump.

 

Leah Sottile: Or a Georgia man who killed a cop.

 

Speaker 15: Now the killer, Taran Guthrie claimed to be-

 

Leah Sottile: And considered himself a sovereign citizen, a nation unto himself.

 

Speaker 15: He didn't recognize police authority and considered-

 

Leah Sottile: And I wondered if the Panaca bombing was perhaps an early sign of this increasingly radical violence. A tiny window too small to see the whole picture, but a window nonetheless into extremist ideologies, and how those ideologies become violent.

 

Leah Sottile: I couldn't ask Glen Jones why he blew up the Cluff's house, or if the bombing was supposed to send some sort of message. But there was someone else, someone who was at Bundy ranch and who knew LaVoy Finicum, who also tried to blow up a government building that same summer.

 

Al Letson: And when we come back, Leah tracks down that man who said what happened at the Bundy ranch served as a rallying cry.

 

Bill Keebler: To me it was one of the biggest events in this country that has in its history short of the Boston Tea Party, I'm not comparing it to the Civil War, not like that. But it was a wake up call.

 

Al Letson: This is Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson.

 

Al Letson: Back in February at a truck stop outside Salt Lake City, Utah, Leah Sottile and Ryan Haas of the podcast Bundyville have come to meet a guy named Bill Keebler.

 

Speaker 17: That's okay.

 

Speaker 18: Is it cool for him to start [crosstalk 00:27:20]? Okay.

 

Speaker 17: Yeah, I'm not [inaudible 00:27:20].

 

Speaker 19: Sorry about the wait guys.

 

Al Letson: Keebler has been involved with the patriot movement since the Bundy's first standoff with the federal government in Bunkerville, Nevada. He says he ran security there. Afterwards he started his own militia.

 

Speaker 20: 57 year old William Keebler is known by the FBI as a commander of a citizen militia group called the Patriot's Defense Force.

 

Al Letson: In June of 2016, Keebler hit the button to detonate what he thought was a bomb to destroy a building owned by the bureau of land management, but it turns out the bomb was a fake. Undercover FBI agents had given him the device. He pled guilty to the attempted bombing and served time in jail. Now he's out on probation, Leah and Ryan pick up the story at that restaurant in Salt Lake.

 

Ryan Haas: Can I get you anything to drink?

 

Bill Keebler: I can [inaudible] some coffee real quick.

 

Ryan Haas: Good, not a problem. I am so sorry-

 

Leah Sottile: Bill Keebler looks like a shriveling old ranch hand. He's got leather skin, a smoker's cough, says he beat cancer once, and has had four heart procedures.

 

Bill Keebler: 2013 I had a massive heart attack and had to go in for emergency open heart surgery.

 

Leah Sottile: We're at a Denny's, tucked into the corner of the truck stop. For most of his working years Keebler was a horse wrangler and hunting guide with his own company. We ease into the conversation. Ryan and I are just trying to get a feel for who we're talking to, what we can and can't ask. But it turns out Keebler's a storyteller and he's happy to talk all about his past. He's got stories from his time in the Army.

 

Bill Keebler: Oh, 11 Bravo. Infantry. I went to a lot of specialized training, Fort Benning, I went to Germany. I landed there in I think on a Friday, Saturday morning I woke up on a Russian, Communist Russian border.

 

Leah Sottile: And he says he also knows his way around computers.

 

Bill Keebler: I used to do code and stuff.

 

Leah Sottile: Oh okay. Okay.

 

Bill Keebler: Encryption, they can't break it.

 

Leah Sottile: I see.

 

Bill Keebler: And they still haven't broken it. Not that I'm any good, but anyway.

 

Leah Sottile: He even says he has a black belt in Kung Fu.

 

Bill Keebler: Studied numerous arts, I rank black belt in four different styles.

 

Leah Sottile: He says he created his own system of Kung Fu. You can tell Keebler likes to think of himself as a kind of elderly Rambo.

 

Bill Keebler: [inaudible 00:29:39].

 

Leah Sottile: And I should be clear, I wasn't able to verify most of his stories, but I also wasn't in Utah to figure out whether he got third place in the Kung Fu world championships. I wanted to know what happened with the FBI, but first, that meant convincing him that we weren't FBI agents.

 

Bill Keebler: People are afraid to talk to people like you all. I'm going to be honest with you, it wouldn't surprise me if both of you pulled out a badge. It just wouldn't shock me anymore after what I've seen.

 

Leah Sottile: Because in Keebler's world everyone's a potential threat. And you can't be too careful. He's been burned once already. I ask him why he's even telling me his story.

 

Bill Keebler: Because if I don't it's going to die with me. I've been on borrowed time for years.

 

Leah Sottile: I came here because I wanted to hear Keebler's side of the bombing and understand how and why things became violent, but just a few minutes into the interview what I'm really wondering is, how did the FBI decide to focus on this guy? Is this old man in poor health really the most dangerous person in the patriot movement?

 

Leah Sottile: If you skip over the Special Forces training, the computer hacking and martial arts inventing, the verifiable part of Bill Keebler's story starts in 2014 when he spent about two weeks in Bunkerville, Nevada on Cliven Bundy's ranch. The family and some militias were facing off with the Bureau of Land Management, because the Bundy's hadn't paid their grazing fees and the BLM had come to collect their cattle. The fact that Keebler was there was later used by government prosecutors in court as evidence of his extremism.

 

Leah Sottile: Back then, Keebler says he was a member of the Oath Keepers, a militia associated with the patriot movement. And by his account at Bundy ranch, he was a bodyguard for the family. He claims he's the guy who kept things from descending into violence.

 

Bill Keebler: Believe it or not I actually stopped a lot of people from a lot of gun play up there. I stopped some people, they wanted to shoot people.

 

Leah Sottile: I don't want to rehash Bundy ranch, but the long and short of it is, no one fired any shots and the government backed down. And after the Bundy's cows were released and the BLM agents left Keebler was pumped up on the patriot's big win.

 

Bill Keebler: To me it was one of the biggest events in this country, in its history short of the Boston Tea Party. I'm not comparing it to the Civil War, nothing like that. But it was a wake up call.

 

Leah Sottile: So in the following months back at home in Utah, Keebler started his own militia, he called it Patriot's Defense Force, or PDF. It was a half dozen or so guys that got together mostly to talk about self reliance basically. They did survival training, practiced target shooting. They were anti government preppers who talked a lot about going off grid, about what to do when things went sideways. Keebler even showed people who to raise chickens and rabbits for meat.

 

Leah Sottile: Then a few months later Keebler got a phone call from someone he met at Bunkerville, LaVoy Finicum.

 

Bill Keebler: He wanted me to basically come to his place and give him the support that we gave the Bundy's.

 

Leah Sottile: Back then LaVoy Finicum was just a rancher in Arizona, and Keebler said he was building up to his own Bunkerville style standoff with the BLM. I can't fully verify what was said in this phone call, but I do know that around this time in the late summer of 2015 Finicum was becoming agitated with the Bureau of Land Management.

 

Bill Keebler: The BLM, the federal government has said has exclusive legislative power over these lands.

 

Leah Sottile: He was making that pretty obvious on his YouTube page.

 

Bill Keebler: Now none of these bureaucrats do we elect here in Mohave county. None of them are accountable to us in Mohave county. This is the definition of tyranny.

 

Leah Sottile: From the way Keebler tells the story, Finicum was not only upset, he was looking for a fight. And Keebler, who advertises his supposed expertise in military tactics to anyone who will listen, was happy to bring his militia to come help him prepare for the confrontation.

 

Bill Keebler: At the Bundy's we got there after the fact. If we knew it was coming we could be there prepared. Because they were actually ... Apparently they were going to come and just take all his cattle.

 

Leah Sottile: But it's pretty unlikely that anyone was coming for Finicum's cattle. Records from the BLM showed Finicum only owed about $1,400 in grazing fees. By comparison, Cliven Bundy owed more than a million dollars, accrued over 20 years before the BLM planned a cattle roundup that led to the standoff near his ranch. But that didn't stop Finicum from preparing for the worst. Or Keebler from helping him do it.

 

Leah Sottile: They came up with a plan that was different than what the Bundy's had done. At Finicum's ranch they decided they would let the federal agents onto the land where he grazed his cattle, and then spring a trap.

 

Bill Keebler: Now I don't mean ambush, assault and kill and shoot, none of that crap. See that's where I think everybody tries to ad lib shit.

 

Leah Sottile: The plan was to let the BLM on the property and then use an excavator to destroy the road behind them so their truck couldn't get out.

 

Bill Keebler: At a certain place that when they come up to heel them cattle they can't get up the hill.

 

Leah Sottile: What Keebler was saying sounded way more extreme of an approach than what I saw at Bundy ranch, or in Oregon. He was saying, they would trap federal agents. And I had to wonder, then what? Are they going to keep them? Hold them hostage? Why trap them in the first place? But before I could get an answer Keebler told me that another member of his militia wanted to blow them all up.

 

Bill Keebler: Brad Miller's idea. No, let's wait until they get right through, blow that ... He just, blow them up.

 

Leah Sottile: Keebler says Brad Miller wanted to set off a bomb at the roadblock, but he had a few problems with that.

 

Bill Keebler: First of all you're killing the man's cattle dumbass. Two, you're killing whoever's in that truck.

 

Leah Sottile: But Brad Miller wasn't just a cattle killing dumbass, he was actually an undercover FBI agent. In fact, at varying times there were three confidential informants and three undercover FBI agents in Keebler's militia.

 

Leah Sottile: So if you take away Keebler, the FBI agents and informants, there were at most just three members of PDF militia. All this time Finicum and Keebler had been planning a confrontation with federal agents with the help of federal agents.

 

Leah Sottile: In court documents there were records of text messages one of the other undercover FBI agents who went by the name Jake Davis sent to his handler right after this happened. He wrote, "I hope we didn't open Pandora's box. I'm worried about our liability." In another text Davis worried about Miller's continued taunting of Keebler. "I'm all for pushing him, but we can't sound more radical," he wrote. "To me that's what it sounds like we're doing."

 

Leah Sottile: Later he wrote, "I'm not down with giving him all the ideas. Like when Miller told him that we would have to mail a bomb to the BLM office, or drive a car bomb up to it. We can't be putting crazy ideas into a crazy guy's head." But they did more than just put ideas in his head, over the course of their investigation the FBI agents posing as militia members drove Keebler around the west to patriot movement gatherings. They paid for trainings, they were the majority of his militia.

 

Leah Sottile: And then finally, in the spring of 2016 Keebler started to buy-in. He told the militia that they were going to target BLM facilities way out in the middle of nowhere, specifically a BLM building that he had scouted near Finicum's ranch. Finicum, by then, had been killed by police after trying to drive around that police blockade in Oregon. Over the next couple of months the FBI make Keebler a fake pipe bomb and then on June 21, 2016 Keebler and the rest of his militia traveled to Arizona and set the bomb outside the building. Keebler pushed the button on a fake detonator the FBI gave him, and then the next morning they arrested him.

 

Bill Keebler: These cops had picked me up, brought me in and I'm handcuffed. And this guy comes in dressed up. Biggest shitting grin on his face. Loud as he could, Mr. Keebler! Been trying to bust your sorry ass for two years.

 

Leah Sottile: They had busted him, and all it took was three agents, three paid informants, and two years of pushing Keebler before they convinced him to set off a fake bomb way out in the middle of the desert.

 

Leah Sottile: It's not every day you talk to someone who's tried to bomb a building, and I have to say, for a while talking to Keebler I felt like maybe the FBI missed the mark and manipulated an otherwise innocent man so they could get a conviction. But about an hour into our conversation things took a hard turn and he didn't seem so innocent anymore. In fact, it became very hard to talk to him. It happened when I asked him about how he thinks the federal government should work.

 

Leah Sottile: Like, think about your ideal situation with the federal government and the state government, what would that look like? What would that world-

 

Bill Keebler: States run themselves. The government doing the job they were meant to be. The government's purpose is basically for foreign affairs.

 

Leah Sottile: He says that the government can do its thing, trading with China and Korea, but it has no damn business running Utah, Georgia, or Texas. Then he starts talking about how Muslims are taking over schools.

 

Bill Keebler: You can't do a pledge of allegiance in our school, but now we got Muslims praying and everything else in the hallways in our schools and in our classrooms. And teachers are now making kids dress up like Muslims.

 

Leah Sottile: I asked Keebler to give me an example of where this was happening. But he just said-

 

Bill Keebler: A number of places.

 

Ryan Haas: Really?

 

Bill Keebler: Yeah. They have taken over whole cities. They want to stop prayer, they want to stop all the American stuff, the Boy Scouts and everything and make it Islam. They're out in the streets right now with hundreds of them bowing to shut down whole roads, and the cops are standing over them making sure nobody interrupts them. Are you serious? That's what Bradley tanks are for. You get about 50 red necks with four wheel drive pickup trucks, and we'll end that problem.

 

Leah Sottile: Keebler is advocating for something that sounds like intimidation at best, and attacking Muslims in the street at worst. And it's all informed by his conspiratorial worldview. Maybe this is the kind of talk that brought the FBI to him.

 

Bill Keebler: They don't know what cops know. They got what looks like police cars and what looks like police uniforms, and they go around doing what they want. Now there was a guy that was preaching Christianity up there and he has been arrested. That's on the internet right now. You need to do your homework.

 

Ryan Haas: And you think the federal government is involved in that? Or you just think that-

 

Bill Keebler: I know damn well they are.

 

Leah Sottile: It should be no shock at this point to tell you that Keebler is also an ardent Donald Trump supporter, he loves him. And he hates Barack Obama, thinks he's part of what conspiracy theorists call "the deep state". A supposed shadowy government cabal.

 

Bill Keebler: The agreement that they put him in the president is that he would make way for more Muslims to be able to get into the United States. And guess what's actually come out recently?

 

Leah Sottile: Who says that?

 

Bill Keebler: One of them news reporters.

 

Ryan Haas: So he was made president so more Muslims could come in the US-

 

Bill Keebler: He arranged to be able to ... Like Soros is financing a lot of it. A lot of this is about the new world order. [inaudible] the pedophilia going on right now. They can kill a child hours after it's been born. They keep it alive long enough for the organs to develop and then they kill the kid. And harvest it for parts.

 

Leah Sottile: At this point in our interview Keebler is looking at Ryan and me like we're crazy. Like, how do we not know any of this?

 

Bill Keebler: It's all over the internet, I can't believe you don't know none of this stuff.

 

Leah Sottile: We're looking at Keebler like, how crazy do you have to be to believe this stuff? Talking to Keebler, I feel like I understand how far down a conspiratorial rabbit hole you have to be in order to detonate a bomb. That helps me understand Glen Jones too. But at the same time, Keebler's bigotry has clouded his entire perspective on the world. Keebler's whole life revolves around conspiracy theories, but in the world of militias and anti government groups, this is actually nothing new. So we got on the phone with author Jesse Walker to help put a guy like Keebler in context.

 

Leah Sottile: Walker wrote a book called, The United States of Paranoia. I wanted to understand the role that conspiracies have played in militia groups throughout history.

 

Jesse Walker: You know in the cold war era right wing conspiracy theories too, you had groups like the John Birch Society sort of shifting from, in the 1960s, from fears where, oh the enemy is based in Moscow, to fears where the enemy is based in New York and manipulating Moscow.

 

Leah Sottile: And then in the 90s after the cold war ended, and events like Ruby Ridge and Waco happened, the conspiracy shifted again.

 

Jesse Walker: And so it's much easier to just sort of see Washington as the enemy. Period. You also have the rise of the internet, and while I'm not someone who argues that the internet made people more paranoid, made people more conspiracist, I do think one thing that it definitely did was allow more mixing among all these different groups of people who had previously been much more separate from one another.

 

Leah Sottile: Though Keebler fits this description of the modern conspiracy theorist, someone looking for a target for their anger, he was in the Army fighting Communism. When the cold war ended, he had to look somewhere else and joined up with militias and other so called patriot groups to fight the government. Now he's a foot soldier for Trump, and his new enemies are immigrants and Muslims and women and abortion doctors, the BLM and George Soros and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the deep state.

 

Leah Sottile: He lives in an acid bath of conspiracy theories. So I asked Keebler, where is all this going in his mind?

 

Leah Sottile: [inaudible] when shit hits the fan [inaudible 00:44:36]?

 

Bill Keebler: During the Obama administration if he declared martial law, rally around me because I serve a central command post, then we'll go from there. And we start operations at that point. That would have been a shit hit the fan.

 

Leah Sottile: So what's the difference now? What's the-

 

Bill Keebler: I think if Trump declares martial law, he would be in a more controlled manner. He's not coming after patriots, he's not coming after militia.

 

Leah Sottile: Do you mean he's not coming after white people?

 

Bill Keebler: No. No, see there you go pushing the racist bullshit.

 

Leah Sottile: That's why I'm asking.

 

Leah Sottile: Keebler got angry when I asked him if this entire world of shady conspiracies and government cabals is really just a veil for his racism. After he spent an hour telling wildly inaccurate stories about Sharia law and invasions at the border, how Muslims are a plague in a Christian nation like America, he tells me, I'm off base to ask if this all really comes down to bigotry. Keebler has built his world around these extremist ideas, and he's not willing to back down from them. That much is clear. When Ryan asked him a different question.

 

Ryan Haas: What do you think happens if the democrats impeach Trump, or some kind of charges are brought, what do you think happens then with the patriots?

 

Bill Keebler: It's over. All bets off. Just from what I'm hearing and seeing on the internet. All bets are off.

 

Ryan Haas: What does that mean?

 

Bill Keebler: All bets are off. Take that for what it's worth.

 

Leah Sottile: Bill Keebler, a guy who tried to blow up a government building and who lives on a steady stream of hate from the internet says that he's had enough. If anything were to ever happen to his guy Trump, then he thinks it would be time to take up arms again.

 

Bill Keebler: People are wanting retaliation, they want revenge, they want payback for a lot of things. This abortion crap, what happened to LaVoy, what is happening to our children, what is happening to our streets, what is happening in our schools. People want retribution.

 

Al Letson: Listening to that story, you might think the government's spending a lot of resources to stop people like Bill Keebler, but in reality he's the exception not the rule. Don't get me wrong, the FBI carries out plenty of sting operations, they're just usually focused on terrorists acting in the name of Islam, even though there's way more acts of right wing terrorism. We looked at this with type investigations a few years back and found that half of the incidents carried out in the name of Islam are stopped with stings. Half.

 

Al Letson: Meanwhile, stings were used to stop just 12% of white supremacists, anti government, and other right wing terrorism. In other words, law enforcement usually only focuses on right wing violence after the bombs explode. Leah, I want to get back to the last thing that we heard from Bill Keebler, that people want retribution. What does he mean by that?

 

Leah Sottile: There's really been a transition I think in the years since the Bundy's standoffs. A lot of the anti government movement suddenly loves the government under Trump, which kind of is counter intuitive, right? Like the anti government movement is suddenly pro government because Trump is talking about things that they care about deeply. Things like anti immigration issues, anti Muslim issues. And Trump is this kind of anti government president.

 

Leah Sottile: So retribution for guys like Bill Keebler is seeing the extremes of those things coming true, finally coming to fruition. So a country with no immigrants, no more Islam, no more tolerance of anyone but white Christian people.

 

Al Letson: I mean, the two things, the idea that these groups are anti government and the fact that suddenly they are pro government under Trump is not surprising to me at all because I think the underpinning of both of these things are white supremacy. How does that play out in anti government movements?

 

Leah Sottile: There's this kind of coded language of racism and bigotry that drives the groups and that you can hear under a lot of what they say. So yeah, it's not really surprising that after years of being mostly dormant a lot of these anti government groups had a big resurgence under the first black president, under President Obama. So you can see evidence of the way white supremacy rides along with all of these anti government flashpoints in the last 30 years.

 

Leah Sottile: So like Randy Weaver, the guy who was at the center of the Ruby Ridge standoff, he was known to hangout at the Arian Nation's compound in north Idaho. The Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, was inspired by a novel called The Turner Diaries, which envisions this future dominated by a race war.

 

Al Letson: So what sense do you have of what people like Bill Keebler will be doing between now and the presidential election next year?

 

Leah Sottile: I think Bill Keebler, specifically is focused on getting off probation, kind of disappearing into the woods, I guess, if he could. Said he wanted to move out of Utah where he feels like the federal government is watching him. He's left social media and that kind of thing, but he still occasionally talks about conspiracies, pro Trump messages. He's very excited about some of the racist comments that President Trump has been saying as of late.

 

Leah Sottile: So you kind of see an individual like him as really getting excited about Trump, but also getting excited about these anti democrat, anti liberal conspiracies that spread like wildfire on the internet.

 

Al Letson: Why does the government have such a hard time stopping these kind of domestic groups? And I'm think that when we look at this, we're primarily talking about white supremacists. And the government doesn't seem to have a problem tackling other types of terrorism, why does the government seem to have such a hard time stopping these groups with violent tendencies?

 

Leah Sottile: I think it's about priorities. After 9/11 there was a major shift towards focusing on cracking down on international terrorism. And it took the focus off of domestic anti government groups that saw such a resurgence during the 1990s, so I think that your question is right on. What's changed now to stop them?

 

Al Letson: So what else do you uncover in the rest of the new season of Bundyville?

 

Leah Sottile: I answered all kinds of questions, one of those is that I looked at how the anti government movement recruits other people to do violence and who stands to benefit from that violence? So those questions took me all around the American west. And actually led me to a really secretive religious community that I long heard about up in eastern Washington that is thought of as this real patriot friendly place. And I think could be thought of as something of an origin point for a lot of the ideas that the western anti government movement is excited about.

 

Al Letson: Leah Sottile, thank you so much.

 

Leah Sottile: Thank you.

 

Al Letson: We want to thank the whole team at Bundyville for their help. As we said, the full run of season two is just out with more twists and turns. I highly recommend you check it out. You could also read the series on Longreads.com/bundyville. Bundyville is produced by Longreads and Oregon Public Broadcasting, our partners in bringing you this week's show.

 

Al Letson: Many thanks to the OPB editors, Ryan Haas and Anna Griffon. And to Longread editors Mike Dang and Kelly Stout. And fact checker, Matt Giles. Our executive producer Kevin Sullivan edited today's show with help from Reveal's Emily Harris and Najib Aminy. Our production manager is Mwende Hinojosa, our sound design team is the dynamic duo, Jay Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Finando my man, Yo Aruda. Our CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Matt Thompson is our editor and chief. Our theme music is by Commarado Light. Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

 

Al Letson: Reveal, is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I'm Al Letson, and remember, there is always more to the story.

 

Speaker 22: From PRX.