Bombing plot in Oklahoma is thwarted, FBI says

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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, officials said, but was thwarted by a long-running undercover investigation led by an FBI joint terrorism task force.

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, officials said. The device was inert and could not explode, officials said.

According to court documents, 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.

The bank 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 FBI agent posing as someone who could help him, 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. Varnell sought to form and arm a small militia group, inspired in part by the movie "Fight Club," officials said.

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 FBI 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."

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 Donald Trump.


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