An Oklahoma man was arrested Saturday morning in connection with an attempt to detonate what he believed was a vehicle bomb in Oklahoma City.
Updated Monday, August 14 at 6:10 p.m.
The man who was arrested Saturday morning following an alleged foiled plot to bomb a downtown Oklahoma City bank adhered to an anti-government ideology, authorities say.
Jerry Drake Varnell, of Sayre, Oklahoma, is charged with malicious attempted destruction of a building used in and affecting interstate commerce by means of an explosive. On Friday night, Varnell allegedly constructed what he believed was a 1,000 pound ammonium nitrate bomb in what he thought was a stolen van. Authorities say he parked the van in the loading care of the BancFirst building in downtown Oklahoma City. He was arrested after allegedly trying to detonate the bomb with a cell phone.
The bomb materials were inert and supplied by an undercover FBI employee.
FBI assistant agent in charge Raul Bajanda said Varnell’s arrest was the culmination of 8 months of investigation by the FBI’s joint terrorism task force.
If convicted, Varnell could spent between 5 and 20 years in prison.
Bujanda says Varnell allegedly expressed that he wanted to start a “new revolution” in December 2016, and he desired to target government and financial institutions in Washington, DC. According to a complaint filed Sunday against Varnell, he eventually settled on the BancFirst building.
“He wanted to make the biggest impact wherever he was going to place this bomb. And in his mind, this would have been the biggest impact in Oklahoma,” Bujanda said.
He began gathering components that he believed would make a 1,000 pound bomb, including an ammonium nitrates and other explosives.
“This bomb itself would have done serious damage and Mr. Drake Varnell had the intent to go ahead and carry out this plot to the end,” Bujanda said.
According to a criminal complaint, Varnell acknowledged the possibility of killing somebody during the attack and allegedly told an undercover employee he wanted to do something to “somehow cripple the government. Something that sends a message that says, “You’re a target.’”
Varnell also allegedly sent a private message to the undercover agent, which he wanted to be posted after the bombing. The complaint alleges the message expressed admiration for the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh.
“It was a wake up call to both the government and the people. An act done to show the government what the people thinks of its actions. It is also a call to arms, to show people that there are still fighters among the American people. The time for revolution is now,” the message reads.
Bujanda said Varnell’s decision to allegedly build the bomb on Friday was not connected to the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that resulted in violent confrontations between white nationalists and anti-protesters. One anti-protester was killed.
The criminal complaint alleges Varnell told an undercover employee that he holds the same ideology as Three Percenters and he wanted to make a statement with explosives. The Three Percenters are a group which pledge resistance to the government and what it perceives as infringement against the Constitution. The Southern Poverty Law Center labels the Three Percenters as an extremist anti-government group.
Bujanda says Varnell unsuccessfully attempted to recruit others to his cause, and at least two reported Varnell to the FBI.
“At this time, we only have information that Mr. Varnell was involved in this plot. Of course this is an ongoing investigation, but we do not have any information at this time that anyone else was involved,” U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma Mark Yancey said.
Bujanda says Varnell had the intent, and was close to acquiring the appropriate knowledge, to carry out the plot without the two undercover FBI employees who supplied him with information about supplies.
“We were aware of his intent, we were controlling the situation from beginning to end,” Bujanda said. “There was never a threat to any citizens in Oklahoma.”
The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, which sits on the site of the Murrah Federal Building and is dedicated to the 168 victims of the bombing, issued a statement on Monday, calling Varnell’s arrest a “haunting reminder.”
“We are disheartened that a young man who calls Oklahoma home would resort to domestic terrorism, knowing the deep sense of loss still felt by people impacted by the Oklahoma City bombing,” the statement read.
U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe said in a statement the FBI “successfully prevented a hateful act of domestic terrorism that could have mirrored the Alfred P. Murrah Building bombing in 1995.”
Thank you to state and federal law enforcement for foiling an alleged bombing plot in Oklahoma City this weekend. My full statement: pic.twitter.com/bUZ49fmDiO
— Jim Inhofe (@JimInhofe) August 14, 2017
According to a complaint released by the U.S. Department of Justice on Monday, 23-year-old Jerry Drake Varnell of Sayre, Oklahoma has been charged with attempting to use explosives to destroy a building in interstate commerce. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.
Law enforcement apprehended Varnell shortly before 1:00 a.m. on Saturday outside the BancFirst building in downtown Oklahoma City. The arrest was the conclusion of a months-long investigation in which law enforcement learned of Varnell's plan, provided him with fake explosives and intercepted him as he carried out his plan.
In a Facebook message sent two days before the attempted detonation, Varnell expressed admiration for the impact of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. "It was a wake up call to both the government and the people. An act done to show the government what the people thinks of its actions. It is also a call to arms, to show people that there are still fighters among the American people. The time for revolution is now," the message reads.
This story will be updated with more details.
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