OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – An Oklahoma man was arrested for allegedly trying to detonate a massive car bomb in downtown Oklahoma City out of hatred for the federal government, prosecutors said Monday.
Jerry Drake Varnell, 23, of Sayre, Oklahoma, was charged Sunday with one count of malicious attempted destruction of a building used in and affecting interstate commerce by means of an explosive. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted.
Varnell is accused of trying to detonate “what he believed to be an explosive laden van” he parked next to a BancFirst location in downtown Oklahoma City at 1 a.m. on Saturday. Varnell had earlier agreed to have an undercover FBI agent “obtain the needed explosives in lieu of making it himself,” according to a 16-page affidavit.
FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Raul Bujanda assured citizens that Varnell was under surveillance for months and was at no time a danger to the public.
“Once we were aware of his intent, we controlled the situation from beginning to end,” he said at a press conference Monday. “So there was never a threat to the citizens of Oklahoma … there was never a risk to the American people.”
Bujanda said that if the bomb had been real, a detonation would have “damaged at least 50 percent” of the building.
Varnell allegedly told an unidentified FBI source on Facebook Messenger that he changed his target from the Federal Reserve Building to the bank because “I don’t wanna kill a bunch of people.”
He allegedly told the source and a second FBI employee at an Elk City restaurant in June that he wanted to “start the next revolution.”
“Varnell said he wanted to be a part of something and was of the same mind with people who wanted to use explosives and make a statement,” the affidavit stated. “Varnell states, ‘something needs to be done,’ but killing a bunch of people was never a good idea.”
“He identified BancFirst as the target, prepared a statement to be posted on social media after the explosion, helped assemble the device, helped load it into what he believed was a stolen van, drove the van by himself from El Reno to BancFirst in downtown Oklahoma City, and dialed a number on a cellular telephone that he believed would trigger the explosion,” prosecutors allege in a written statement.
The Justice Department claims Varnell’s initial plan of blowing up the Federal Reserve Building in Washington, D.C. involved using a device similar to the one used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
BancFirst said it has been “working cooperatively” with the FBI and “at no time” were employees, customers or the public in danger.
“We believe our BancFirst downtown Oklahoma City building was a random and convenient selection by the suspect,” BancFirst said in a statement. “There is no further threat or reason for concern.”