Jerry Drake Varnell of Sayre, Oklahoma was arrested Saturday morning when he was found to be attempting to detonate what he believed was a van filled with explosives parked in an alley next to the BancFirst building, according to KOCO News.
The BancFirst building is located at 101 N. Broadway, and is two blocks from the southeast corner of the Oklahoma Bombing Memorial complex where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building once stood. American terrorist Timothy McVeigh was convicted of blowing up the building in 1995, killing 168 people including 19 children and babies in the daycare center on the second floor.
A criminal complaint was filed in the Western District of Oklahoma Sunday that revealed the FBI arrested 23-year-old Varnell at 1 a.m. The man initially hoped to blow up the Federal Reserve Building in Washington, D.C. using a similar device that McVeigh used. His intentions came to the attention of law enforcement when an undercover FBI agent posed as someone trying to assist him in the effort.
Varnell took many steps to advance the plot, the complaint alleges. He identified BancFirst as the target, prepared a social media statement to be posted after the explosion, he helped assemble the device and load it into what he thought was a “stolen van.” He then picked up the van from an El Reno location and drove it to the BancFirst building in Oklahoma City and dialed the cell phone number that would trigger the explosion.
He’s charged with attempting to use explosives to destroy a building in interstate commerce and he faces 20 years in prison if convicted. Mandatory minimum sentence puts him in jail for at least five years. He’ll appear in court at 3 p.m. Monday.
“There was never a concern that our community’s safety or security was at risk during this investigation,” said Special Agent in Charge Kathryn Peterson of the FBI. “I can assure the public, without hesitation, that we had Varnell’s actions monitored every step of the way.”
The arrest is the culmination of an ongoing domestic terrorism investigation that involves undercover officers. Varnell had been monitored closely for months as the plot unfolded. The device was never one that would explode or kill anyone. The public was safe at all times, law enforcement said.
Varnell was a follower of the Three Percenter ideology, according to the Washington Post. The so-called patriot group pledges resistance against the United States, believing the government has breached the Constitution. They believe only three percent of the colonial population participated in the American Revolution and think that they are the rightful heirs.
“We are NOT a militia,” the about section of their website claims. One of their four principles claims there will be “No Targeting of Innocents,” which might be why Varnell attempted to blow up the building after hours on Friday. They heavily support the Second Amendment. The group was founded in 2008 by former Alabama militiaman Mike Vanderboegh and is often associated with the Oath Keepers.