A self-proclaimed anti-government revolutionary has been charged with trying to blow up an Oklahoma City bank with a 1,000-pound bomb that turned out to be fake, according to court documents.
Jerry Drake Varnell, 23, on Friday drove what he believed to be a stolen cargo van packed with chemical explosives into Oklahoma City and parked the van in an alley next to the BancFirst building, authorities said.
He had intended to execute an attack like the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing by homegrown terrorist Timothy McVeigh, but was unaware that the plot was doomed by months of planning and coordination with undercover FBI agents, according to the criminal complaint.
The case dates back to Dec. 21, when a confidential source informed the FBI that Varnell was allegedly interested in bombing the Federal Reserve Building in Washington, DC, in a manner similar to the 1995 attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
The confidential source, who the FBI said was serving a prison sentence for a probation violation, started a dialog with Varnell through encrypted chat applications and Facebook Messenger.
According to the FBI, Varnell told the confidential source things like, “I’m out for blood. When militias start getting formed, I’m going after government officials when I have a team.”
He also allegedly discussed the possibility of explosives, telling the source, “I think I’m going to go with what the okc bomber used. Diesel and anhydrous ammonia."
Varnell continued to discuss the attack with the source over the course of several months, claiming that he was in the process of putting together a team, authorities said. He also brought the source to a “bunker” he was assembling on his parents’ property, where he lived.
At one point, Varnell allegedly told an undercover FBI agent that he wanted to switch his target from the Federal Reserve Building in DC to the BancFirst building. When he was asked why he wanted to change targets, Varnell allegedly said "I don’t want to kill a bunch of people.”
On June 1, the confidential source arranged for Varnell to meet with an undercover FBI agent known only as “the professor,” who they said could obtain the explosives and help construct the bomb. At the meeting, Varnell said he held a “three-percenter ideology,” a reference to the heavily armed militia group. Varnell also agreed to let the undercover agent obtain the explosives for him instead of him trying to make them himself, the complaint states.
The fake conspirators met several times and communicated on encrypted chat over the next several months. According to court documents, the FBI agent, per sting operation protocol, gave Varnell several opportunities to back out of the operation, but each time he expressed a desire to move forward.
On Aug. 11, Varnell met with the undercover agent and assisted the agent in the construction of what he thought was a 1,000-pound ammonium nitrate/fuel oil bomb at a storage facility in El Reno, Oklahoma.
Shortly after midnight on Aug. 12, authorities say Varnell drove in what he believed to be the stolen cargo van from El Reno to an alley outside the BancFirst building. After parking the van, he walked several blocks to where the undercover agent was parked, and the two drove several miles.
Varnell then allegedly attempted to detonate the bomb by dialing a number on the FBI agent’s "burner phone," which actually rang a phone belonging to the FBI.
Varnell dialed the number at least three times, according to court documents, but the bomb constructed of inert parts never detonated. He was then arrested by members of the FBI task force.
Michael Hayes is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Mike Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.