The 23-year-old man who was taken into FBI custody on Saturday after trying to detonate a fake bomb in Oklahoma City is mentally ill and was “aided and abetted” by the FBI, his family said in a statement to the Huffington Post.
Jerry Drake Varnell, who allegedly followed far-right anti-government groups and told the FBI he “wanted to start the next revolution,” is “a paranoid schizophrenic and is extremely susceptible to different types of ideology that normal people would deem immoral,” the statement said. His parents, Charlie and Melonie, wrote that a court in Oklahoma had found their son “mentally incompetent” and given them legal guardianship over him. “The FBI clearly knew that he was schizophrenic because they have gathered every ounce of information on him,” they said.
“I consider this entrapment,” Melonie Varnell told the Daily Beast earlier this week. “They got him to do this.”
The statement to HuffPost expands on this:
What the public should be looking at is the fact that the FBI gave our son the means to make this happen. He has no job, no money, no vehicle, and no driver’s license, due to the fact that he is schizophrenic and we; his parents do everything we can possible to keep him safe and functional. The mental health system has consistently failed us due to the lack of establishments and health care coverage for a person like him. He has attended college and just enrolled in welding school. His medications allow him to be somewhat functional but he will never be completely functional in life. His brain does not work like a normal person and never will due to the nature of his mental illness.
The family also disputed details of the FBI’s court filing against Varnell. “We do not have an underground bunker!” the statement said. The “bunker” that Varnell allegedly told the FBI about is a shipping container used as a storm shelter and storm unit. They sent HuffPost photos of a disorganized shipping container to prove this.
The statement ends with Varnell’s parents writing that they wished the FBI would have come to them, rather than stringing their son along toward a fantasy terrorist attack. “We would have committed him into a mental institution for help,” it says.
This is nowhere near the first time the FBI has been accused of exploiting the mentally ill by manufacturing terror plots and then stepping in later to “solve” them. In 2014, a report from Human Rights Watch identified that tactic as one of the agency’s favorites when it comes to carrying out counterterrorism stings.
The FBI often targeted particularly vulnerable people, including those with intellectual and mental disabilities and the indigent. The government, often acting through informants, then actively developed the plot, persuading and sometimes pressuring the targets to participate, and provided the resources to carry it out.
In addition to the FBI, Varnell’s mother also placed some blame for his arrest on the radicalizing powers of internet communities. With her son on summer break from college, he spent a lot of time online, where his delusions were fed, she told the Daily Beast. “He has all kinds of conspiracy theories in his brain,” she said.