The FBI has arrested an Oklahoma man on charges alleging he wanted to carry out a copycat bombing of the 1995 attack by extremist Timothy McVeigh.
Jerry Drake Varnell was arrested after he twice dialed a cell phone that he believed would remotely detonate a van he helped load with 1,000 pounds of explosives before parking it outside a bank about six blocks away from the scene of the deadly 1995 terrorist attack, court documents say.
The explosives were inert — provided by an undercover FBI agent who had been introduced to Varnell during an eight-month terrorism investigation in which the suspect was repeatedly asked if he was certain about his intention to carry out the intended bombing, according to charging documents.
Varnell, 23, of Sayre, Oklahoma, was charged in a federal criminal complaint with malicious attempted destruction of a building used in interstate commerce by means of an explosive. He is being held without bond until a detention hearing next week in Oklahoma City. A formal grand jury indictment is expected.
The suspect’s family issued a statement following his arrest, claiming he is mentally ill, and that the FBI knew that during its investigation. In contrast, charging documents show the suspect was repeatedly asked if he wanted to follow through with his plans to retaliate against the government — something the documents say he steadfastly reaffirmed over the months-long investigation.
“When militias start getting formed, I'm going after government officials when I have a team,” the suspect said at one point during the investigation, saying he wanted to build a truck bomb “with what the OKC bomber [McVeigh] used — diesel and anhydrous ammonia.”
“I might have to make a distillery to process some stuff …,” the suspect said in one encrypted social media message, according to charging documents.
The case is the latest in a rash of arrests of extremists who have carried out assorted crimes, including homicides, as they attempted to adulate and emulate the 1995 Oklahoma City bomber — a trend that might be called “McVeigh Worship.”
The Varnell investigation was opened last December when an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force developed information that the suspect “was aspiring to bomb the Federal Reserve Building in Washington D.C. in a manner similar to the Oklahoma City bombing” carried out by McVeigh, the court documents say.
The initial information came from an informant with a criminal record who was paid by the FBI and wore a body wire to secretly record conversations he had with Varnell, the documents say.
The informant’s information was “corroborated through other investigative techniques including physical surveillance, consensually recorded conversations, administrative subpoenas, and searches of public records,” the documents say. The informant subsequently introduced an undercover FBI agent, who posed as a bomb-maker.
Varnell, the documents allege, “was upset with the government and … seeking retaliation.” He was in possession of firearms and wanted to organize and arm a small III%-style militia group. He also claimed to have a bunker “for when the world (or United States) collapsed,” the documents allege.
Over several months, the informant introduced Varnell to the undercover FBI agent — a reputed bomb-making expert called “The Professor” — in meetings where audio or video recordings were made.
Discussions of various targets ranged from a Federal Reserve System building in Washington, D.C., to an IRS headquarters in Texas, the documents say.
During one meeting with the undercover FBI agent, Varnell said he “wanted to be a part of something and … wanted to use explosives and make a statement,” the documents say.
When the suspect was asked if he was sure he wanted to carry out a McVeigh-style truck-bombing, he “responded in the affirmative,” telling the undercover FBI agent that he didn’t understand the “depth” of Varnell’s “hatred for the government.”
The suspect also discussed developing a social media statement, to be anonymously posted after the bombing, to “ensure that no other group, such as ISIS was able to take credit for the attack,” the court documents say.
The documents alleged Varnell drafted this statement to be posted after his planned bombing:
“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.”
Although he was only a year-old at the time of the 1995 bombing, Varnell said he viewed that historic attack as “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.”