By Manny Fernandez, The New York Times
A 23-year-old Oklahoma man has been arrested after he tried to blow up a bank in downtown Oklahoma City using a vehicle bomb similar to the one that destroyed the federal building there in 1995, federal officials said Monday.
The man, Jerry Drake Varnell, had been plotting the attack for months, the authorities said, but was thwarted by a long-running undercover investigation led by an F.B.I. joint terrorism task force.
(The FBI has arrested a 23-year-old man who authorities say attempted to detonate what he believed was an explosives-laden van outside an Oklahoma bank. Officials say Jerry Drake Varnell of Sayre, Oklahoma, was arrested Saturday. Courtesy of the Associated Press and YouTube)
Mr. Varnell was arrested early Saturday after he parked a van loaded with what he believed to be a working explosive device in an alley next to the bank, and then dialed a number on a cellphone that he thought would set it off, federal officials said.
The device was inert and could not explode, the officials said.
According to court documents, Mr. Varnell had espoused an anti-government ideology and had expressed an interest in carrying out an attack that would echo the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April 1995, which killed 168 people.
(Remembering the April 19, 1995 tragedy in Oklahoma when a truck bomb exploded outside of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building injuring hundreds and leaving 168 people dead. Courtesy of NBC News and YouTube. Posted on Apr 20, 2015)
The bank Mr. Varnell was said to target — the downtown branch of BancFirst, Oklahoma’s largest state-chartered bank — is about a half-mile from the site of that attack.
During a meeting in June with an undercover F.B.I. agent posing as someone who could help him, Mr. Varnell said that he wanted to start the next revolution and that he identified with what is known as 3 percenter ideology, according to an affidavit filed in support of the federal criminal complaint against him.
Mr. Varnell sought to form and arm a small militia group, inspired in part by the movie “Fight Club,” the authorities said.
“I’m out for blood,” Mr. Varnell wrote in one text message to a confidential informant who cooperated with the authorities, according to the affidavit, which was written by an F.B.I. special agent.
“When militias start getting formed I’m going after government officials when I have a team,” he wrote. The complaint did not name the informant.
In another text message, Mr. Varnell wrote: “I think I’m going to go with what the okc bomber used. Diesel and anhydrous ammonia.”
Mr. McVeigh and a co-conspirator, Terry L. Nichols, built a giant fertilizer bomb using ammonium nitrate and racing fuel as their primary ingredients.
(The 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing was the largest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history. A new documentary on the PBS series American Experience takes a fresh look at the events and motivations that led to the attack by Timothy McVeigh, and finds resonance for today. Courtesy of PBS NewsHour and YouTube. Posted on Feb 7, 2017)
Mr. Varnell later told the informant to get him ammonium nitrate, adding, “That’s all I need,” according to court documents.
Federal law enforcement officials said the public was not in danger at any time.
“There was never a concern that our community’s safety or security was at risk during this investigation,” Kathryn Peterson, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I. in Oklahoma, said in a statement.
“I can assure the public, without hesitation, that we had Varnell’s actions monitored every step of the way.”
The bombing case appeared to have started in December, when the confidential informant told the F.B.I. that Mr. Varnell wanted to bomb the Washington building that houses the offices of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors.
Mr. Varnell appeared to be especially angry with the banking and financial data system, and expressed interest in attacking corporate data centers and facilities known as server farms, including those run by Facebook and Bank of America, the authorities said.
He told both the informant and the undercover F.B.I. agent that he did not want to kill “a bunch of people.”
But when the undercover agent told him in June that any bombing might kill one or more people, Mr. Varnell responded, “You got to break a couple of eggs to make an omelet,” according to the affidavit.
Mr. Varnell also wrote a statement that he wanted posted on Facebook after the bombing, and sent it to the informant, the authorities said.
The statement refers to the bombing as an act of “retaliation” for government actions that he said restricted Americans’ freedom.
“It was a wake-up call to both the government and the people,” Mr. Varnell’s statement said, according to officials.
(Full video of the press conference held Monday as authorities provide details of how Jerry Drake Varnell attempted to detonate a device near the BancFirst in downtown Oklahoma City. Courtesy of NewsOK and YouTube)
A variety of militia groups around the country regard themselves as 3 percenters.
The term comes from their belief, debunked by historians, that only 3 percent of American colonists fought in the Revolution. These groups reject characterizations of them as racist or anti-government, describing themselves instead as pro-Constitution, pro-gun and, in many cases, pro-President Trump.
The movement’s logo, the Roman numeral III encircled by stars, was visible on at least one of the heavily armed, camouflage-clad militia members at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Militia leaders claimed to be neutral and told reporters they were not affiliated with either the white nationalists or the counterprotesters.
Mr. Varnell lives in Sayre, Okla., with his mother and other relatives.
The authorities said that he had been outfitting a bunker next to his home with end-of-the-world supplies and that he had spoken to the informant of using marijuana and methamphetamine.
He was arrested in 2013 in Weatherford, Okla., and charged with domestic assault and battery by strangulation; it was not immediately clear how that case was resolved.