The FBI has arrested an Oklahoma man who took actions to develop and detonate what he thought was a vehicle bomb targeted at a local bank, the Department of Justice said.
Jerry Drake Varnell, 23, was arrested early Saturday morning in Oklahoma City after he was flagged by the FBI in a long-term undercover investigation the agency says revealed the extent of his hatred against the government.
According to court documents, the FBI opened a domestic terrorism investigation when an unnamed source told the agency they believed Varnell was planning to blow up a federal building in Washington, D.C. An undercover FBI agent kept in touch with Varnell via encrypted texts and Facebook messages, offering assistance to advance a plan to assemble an explosives-laden vehicle and drive it to downtown Oklahoma City, the DOJ says.
After Varnell attempted to detonate his bomb — which the DOJ said was “inert” and posed no danger to the public — the FBI arrested him.
The DOJ said Varnell initially planned to target the Federal Reserve Building in Washington, D.C., among other buildings in Maryland and Texas. The unnamed source who approached the FBI said Varnell expressed his anger with the government as well as a desire to develop and arm a small militia group, according to the complaint.
According to a criminal complaint filed in federal court, Varnell was charged with attempting to use explosives to destroy a building — in this case, the BancFirst in downtown Oklahoma City. He faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and a mandatory minimum sentence of five years of imprisonment if convicted, the DOJ said in a statement released Monday.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office says Varnell has not yet been indicted; the office will seek an indictment within the next 30 days.
If the bombing was successful, Varnell had planned to have a message posted on Facebook referencing the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing orchestrated by Timothy McVeigh, the court documents said.
“What happened in Oklahoma city was not an attack on America, it was retaliation. Retaliation against the freedoms that have been taken away from the American people,” the would-be message said.
In his conversations with the FBI agent, Varnell said he followed the ideology of the Three Percenters, one of the nation’s largest armed right-wing groups that pledges resistance against the U.S. government. The group is named after the incorrect notion that 3 percent of the colonies’ population fought in the American Revolution.
The Anti-Defamation League has said that more than 10,000 people identify with the right-wing group, the NewsHour reported in April.
NewsHour’s P.J. Tobia looks at why armed militia groups are surging across the nation.
Varnell said in one conversation with the undercover agent in June that he wanted to do something that would “somehow cripple the government. Something that sends a message that says, ‘You are a target.'”
When the agent, at one time, raised the possibility of deaths from the explosion, Varnell responded, “You got to break a couple of eggs to make an omelet.” Varnell later said he wanted to conduct an attack after closing hours to limit the amount of casualties, the complaint said.