Jerry Drake Varnell, a 23 year old man from Sayre, Oklahoma, was arrested early Saturday morning for attempting to detonate a vehicle bomb at the BancFirst in downtown Oklahoma City.
Varnell is charged with attempting to use explosives to destroy a building in interstate commerce and if convicted, could face up to 20 years in federal prison with a mandatory minimum of five years in prison.
"I commend the devoted work of the FBI and our state law enforcement partners in ensuring that violent plots of this kind never succeed,” said Mark A. Yancey, United States Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma.
In the criminal complaint filed against Varnell, FBI agents detail a months-long plot as well as Varnell's motivations and conversations the failed bomber had with an undercover agent and an informant.
"There was never a concern that our community’s safety or security was at risk during this investigation," said Kathryn Peterson, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oklahoma. "I can assure the public, without hesitation, that we had Varnell’s actions monitored every step of the way."
In late December, an informant told authorities that Varnell was angry with the government and wanted to develop a small militia with collected firearms. The informant backed up these claims with screenshots of conversations with Varnell.
“I'm out for blood,” Varnell told the informant in some of the screenshots. “When militias start getting formed, I'm going after government officials when I have a team.”
Throughout the time Varnell was monitored by FBI agents, he discussed attempting to put together a team or militia multiple times, according to the affidavit. But his main goal seemed to be building a bomb, from the first screenshot conversations Varnell had with the informant, he said he wanted to build a bomb similar to the one built by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in 1995 in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Varnell changed the location multiple times, starting with a plan to bomb the Eccles Federal Reserve Building in Washington, D.C., before looking at Facebook or Bank of America data centers, an Internal Revenue Service building in Texas and a BancFirst in Oklahoma City.
When Varnell originally discussed bombing an Oklahoma City BancFirst instead of the Eccles Federal Reserve Building the informant asked why Varnell had changed the venue.
“Well I don't wanna kill a bunch of people,” Varnell said, according to the affidavit.
Varnell later met with the undercover employee who posed as a bomb expert. During two months of planing, the undercover employee told Varnell there would be “no hard feelings” if he didn't go through with the plan and cautioned Varnell that there could still be some casualties.
Varnell said the undercover employee did not understand how deeply he hated the government and that sometimes to make an omelette, “you got to crack a few eggs”, though he also wanted to make sure the bombing happened after hours.
According to the affidavit, Varnell was also concerned that his attack would be claimed by a different terrorist group like ISIS, so he planned to set up a Facebook message in order to clarify his position advocating violent revolution.
In a previous conversation at a restaurant where the informant introduced Varnell to the undercover employee, Varnell described his philosophy along the lines of a group called “The Three Percenters” which pledges resistance against the United States government, and, according to the FBI, incorrectly claims only 3 percent of the colonial population was part of the American Revolutionary military.
Varnell also said at that meeting he was inspired by the movie “Fight Club,” saying he wanted to perform similar acts and had already begun experimenting with homemade bombs.
That was when the undercover employee told Varnell to stop handling explosive materials at home.
The undercover employee and Varnell scouted out the bombing location on July 19 and then met on August 11 to make the bomb at Varnell's mini-storage unit in El Reno, which was completely inert.
“At approximately 6:30 p.m., Varnell actively participated in building what he believed to be a 1,000-pound [Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device] constructed with ammonium nitrate/ fuel oil, detonating cord, cast boosters, dynamite and blasting caps,” the affidavit said.
The next day, Varnell and the undercover employee drove the vehicle to Oklahoma City where Varnell was arrested by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Joint Terrorism Task Force and other assisting law enforcement officers at 12:54 a.m. after attempting to call a burner phone and set of the inert bomb.