US officials announced Monday the arrest of a man who sought to detonate a bomb in Oklahoma City reminiscent of the deadly 1995 bombing by anti-government extremist Timothy McVeigh in the same city.
Jerry Varnell, 23, was arrested Saturday after attempting to trigger what he thought was an ammonium nitrate fertilizer bomb — like McVeigh’s — outside a BancFirst branch in the center of the city, according to a criminal complaint filed in Oklahoma district court.
Varnell told an undercover FBI agent and a cooperating source he wanted to attack the government, with his initial target the Federal Reserve in Washington, eight blocks from the White House.
He also considered attacking data centers of Facebook and the Internal Revenue Service before settling on the bank in Oklahoma City, 130 miles (210 kilometers) east of his home in Sayre, Oklahoma.
“I think I’m going to go with what the okc bomber used,” Varnell allegedly told the FBI’s source in an encrypted message.
“What happened in Oklahoma City was not an attack on America, it was retaliation,” he later said. “The time for revolution is now.”
McVeigh killed 168 people when he exploded a fertilizer bomb outside a federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. McVeigh was arrested soon afterward, imprisoned and in 2001 executed for the crime.
Varnell’s arrest was announced two days after white supremacist and extreme-right anti-government groups clashed with opponents in Charlottesville, Virginia. One woman killed when an extremist rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protestors, and two police officers died in a helicopter crash.
Varnell told investigators he supported the far-right “III%ers” anti-government movement and wanted to form his own armed militia.
But he told the undercover agent that, unlike McVeigh, he did not want to kill a lot of people with his bombing, but to “cripple the government,” according to the complaint.
Varnell also told the agent he wanted a way to communicate his message about the bombing to prevent other groups like Islamic State from claiming responsibility.
According to the complaint, Varnell and the FBI agent built the bomb in a van, with “inert” materials including blasting caps and dynamite that were all supplied by the agent.
The inert bomb was parked outside the bank and Varnell was immediately arrested early Saturday morning after he tried to used a cellphone to set it off.