August 15, 2017 at 12:00 PM
The FBI has arrested an Oklahoma man on charges that he tried to detonate what he thought was a 1,000-pound bomb, acting out of a hatred for the U.S. government and an admiration for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, according to court papers.
Jerry Drake Varnell was arrested shortly after an attempt early Saturday morning to detonate a fake bomb packed into what he believed was a stolen cargo van outside a bank in Oklahoma City, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court. He was charged with attempted destruction of a building by means of an explosive.
According to the complaint, over the course of a months-long undercover investigation by the FBI, Varnell made repeated statements about the extent of his hatred of the federal government.
In one conversation, he said he believed in the "Three Percenter" ideology — a form of anti-government activism that pledges resistance against the government on the belief that it has infringed on the Constitution, according to court papers. Those who subscribe to the ideology incorrectly believe that only 3 percent of the colonial population participated in the American Revolution, and they see themselves as their heirs.
Varnell, 23, allegedly discussed a number of potential targets, including the Eccles Federal Reserve Board Building in Washington, D.C., an IRS building in Maryland and a Bank of America data center in Texas. Eventually, he settled on a BancFirst building in Oklahoma City, the court papers say.
According to the complaint, Varnell expressed a desire to blow up buildings, but in a way that would minimize deaths or casualties, possibly by detonating the device at night when offices would be mostly empty.
On June 26, Varnell discussed the possibility that people could be killed and said, "You got to break a couple of eggs to make an omelet,'' according to the complaint.
"That's why people don't do this s--- because, you know, you got to be able to overcome that little reality there," he said, according to the complaint.
As part of that conversation, as outlined in the court papers, Varnell said he wanted to do something that would "somehow cripple the government. Something that sends a message that says, 'You are a target.' "
Two weeks later, however, Varnell indicated that he wanted to detonate the bomb after work hours to prevent casualties, saying: "I'm down for whatever. Safety is number one."
Authorities said Varnell watched the construction of the fake bomb around 6:30 p.m. Friday. He then drove the vehicle containing the device to an alley adjacent to the bank building and parked it there, according to the FBI. After midnight, he twice attempted to detonate the bomb remotely, and shortly after those attempts he was arrested, according to the complaint.
A group called "III% United Patriots'' said Varnell joined in November, but they dropped him from the membership rolls as soon as they heard of Monday's charges.
"We don't want anything to do with him,'' said Dylan Hunter, a spokesman for the group. "We condemn any acts of terrorism. We condemn Timothy McVeigh, we condemn what happened in Charlottesville. What we want to do is support the Constitution of the United States of America.''
This story has been updated to include comment from the "III% United Patriots" group