The Department of Justice announced Monday that the FBI arrested an Oklahoma man on Saturday for allegedly trying to detonate what he thought was a vehicle bomb at a bank in downtown Oklahoma City.
The criminal complaint filed Sunday alleges that the 23-year-old man, Jerry Drake Varnell, tried to detonate what he believed was a van full of explosives that he had parked next to an Oklahoma City bank and was arrested after the attempt, at around 1 a.m.
Raul Bujanda, an FBI assistant special agent in charge for Oklahoma City, said at a news conference Monday that the plot echoed the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995.
Bujanda alleged Varnell holds an “anti-government” ideology, as evidenced in part by his posts on Facebook and conversations with an undercover agent.
The complaint alleges Varnell previously expressed a desire to blow up the Federal Reserve building in Washington and eventually selected a BancFirst location in Oklahoma City to target. It said someone who had spoken with Varnell told the FBI about his intentions and sent law enforcement some screenshots of conversations they had on a secure messaging platform.
“When militias start getting formed I’m going after government officials when I have a team,” read one, according to the complaint. Read another: “I think I’m going to go with what the okc bomber used,” the complaint alleges.
Once law enforcement became aware of Varnell’s alleged plot, the complaint said he met with an undercover FBI agent on the premise that the agent, posing as “the Professor,” would provide materials for a bomb. The agent recorded their meeting on June 1 of this year, and in the conversation Varnell said he subscribed to the “III% ideology,” which the Anti-Defamation League has called a wing of the militia movement.
The complaint alleges Varnell went on to develop his plot, identifying his target bank and loading a van with an explosive device based on materials provided by the FBI.
Bujanda said the FBI made sure no one was ever at risk once it knew of Varnell’s intentions.
“We were controlling this situation from beginning to end,” he said.
US Attorney Mark Yancey said at the same press conference on Monday that Varnell was in the custody of the US Marshals Service ahead of an anticipated appearance before federal court in Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon.
Varnell was charged with attempting to use explosives to destroy a building in interstate commerce. If convicted, Yancey said, Varnell would face a minimum of five years in prison and a maximum sentence of 20 years.