The man behind Sheriff Fnu Lnu

  • WARREN CORNWALL and SCOTT NORTH / Herald Writers
  • Saturday, October 28, 2000 9:00pm
  • Local NewsLocal news


Herald Writers

When Robert Bender, aka Fnu Lnu, last week vowed to act as sheriff of a renegade county, it wasn’t the first time he had crossed swords with the law.

Bender has left a trail of documents in Puget Sound courts accusing government officials of everything from kidnapping to extortion, and seeking more than a million dollars in damages.

Though a recent arrival in Snohomish County, the 57-year-old Bender has already established himself as a kindred spirit with the people claiming to have created "Freedom County," a breakaway government in northern Snohomish County that has been rejected as a fiction by state and federal courts.

Like some of them, Bender has been fascinated by the meaning of gold fringe on U.S. flags in courtrooms. And, like some of them, he has insisted that his name be spelled with a comma separating his middle and last names.

Bender has also filed reams of court documents alleging a range of misdeeds by public officials in the Puget Sound region, and watched them all be summarily thrown out by the courts.

Many people might write Freedom County proponents off as harmless rabble-rousers, but they shouldn’t, warned John Lunsford, research director for the Northwest Coalition for Human Dignity, a watchdog group that monitors the far-right "patriot" movement.

The movement "can be very closely tied to the militias, and we know from our recent history in the country what that can lead to," he said. "That’s why people should sit up and take notice."

Bender officially joined forces with local secessionists last week when he was sworn in as the supposed sheriff of Freedom County during a ceremony at an Arlington pizza parlor.

Although the event garnered public attention, Bender has kept some of his past a mystery, claiming he legally changed his name to Fnu Lnu — a law enforcement acronym for "first name unknown, last name unknown" and pronounced fuh-NEW luh-NEW.

But there is no record that Bender ever legally changed his name.

Instead, decades worth of court documents portray him as a former FBI agent plagued with financial problems who, by the mid-1990s, was locking horns with a wide range of government officials.

Bender was born in Lebanon, Pa., in 1943, and as a young man aspired to work for the FBI, said his 82-year-old father, Victor Bender, a retired printing plant manager now living in Las Vegas.

Bender joined the FBI shortly after graduating from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City in 1971, documents show.

But his career was short-lived, ending in 1978 after he was transferred from undercover work in Minnesota to Seattle. The younger Bender last week told reporters he resigned because he’d accomplished all that he wanted to do as an FBI agent. His father said the departure came after the agency pressed him to return to undercover work, though Bender had been beaten up and shot in the leg during previous undercover stints.

Robert Bender could not be reached for comment for this story. He’s been busy lately being interviewed on area talk radio shows.

In earlier interviews, he has said that after leaving the bureau, he ran a restaurant and two bars in east and south King County.

Then, in 1993, Bender declared bankruptcy. He had more than $41,000 in debts and only $3,700 in assets, according to court records. At the time, he lived in Issaquah with his wife and 6-year-old daughter.

At some point, the former federal agent began walking a different path.

Bender said he no longer files a federal income tax return or makes use of his Social Security number. He said he stopped renewing his driver’s license, but still drives, maintaining he has a constitutional right to travel. That has led to a number of traffic citations, primarily in east King County, where he lived for years.

In 1996, Bender showed up at the offices of the Port of Seattle Police Chief Pat Kasnick in a secured area at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

"Mr. Bender just barged into my office, unannounced and uninvited, and just dropped a bunch of papers on my lap," Kasnick said last week.

Police and a Federal Aviation Administration agent chased after Bender, demanding his identification and an explanation. Bender contended he was serving legal documents for a friend who was acting as his own attorney in a lawsuit against the police department.

When Bender tried to leave, he was detained until his identity could be confirmed.

Bender followed up with a civil-rights lawsuit in which he attempted to charge the officers with a variety of crimes, including kidnapping, extortion, assault and intimidating a public servant. He sought more than $1 million in damages.

In court papers, Bender said one of the officers was a "twit I can only describe as a ‘squirrelly little pipsqueak.’ " He said the men were "thugs" and one was a "degenerate."

The legal papers Bender filed were bedecked with pictures of a U.S. flag without fringe, which he maintained was legally significant, as was his insistence that court documents list his name not in capital letters, but as "Robert Victor, Bender," with a comma between the middle and last names.

The case was dismissed from both King County Superior Court and U.S. District Court in Seattle.

Kasnick said he was surprised last week when Bender surfaced in Snohomish County using the name Fnu Lnu. He said there was nothing humorous about his earlier encounter with the man.

The only official document apparently connecting Bender to the name Fnu Lnu is an October 1999 filing of a Uniform Commercial Code form at the state’s Department of Licensing.

Bender’s filing is in keeping with an increasingly common tactic within the patriot movement, said Jerald Anderson, an assistant attorney general assigned to the department, which holds the filings.

Commonly used to seal a loan arrangement, Anderson said in the last year the department has gotten Uniform Commercial Code filings from people who believe they are freeing themselves from a government conspiracy.

In Bender’s case, the debtor entry refers to "BENDER, ROBERT V. AKA FNU LNU."

In other parts of the country, people who have made such filings have tried to pass off fake documents called "sight drafts" as legal payment, he said. The U.S. Treasury Department in 1999 sent out an alert to banking authorities warning them of the drafts.

"I have, by the way, no reason to believe that Mr. Fnu Lnu has done that," Anderson said.

Thom Satterlee, the man who claims to be the chairman of the Freedom County commissioners, said he sees scant reason for anyone to raise questions about Bender’s past. What matters most, Satterlee said, is the future of Freedom County.

"Who has the power in the state of Washington?" Satterlee asked. "The people or the politicians?"

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Kim Skarda points at her home on a map on Thursday, June 20, 2024 in Concrete, Washington. A community called Sauk River Estates has a very steep slope above it. There is a DNR-approved timber sale that boarders the estate properties, yet they were not consulted about the sale before approval. The community has already appealed the sale and has hired their own geologist to conduct a slope stability report at the site. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Beneath steep slope, Concrete neighbors fear landslides from logging above

Nielsen Brothers plans to cut 54 acres of timber directly behind the community of 83 homes. Locals said they were never consulted.

Law enforcement respond to a person hit by a train near the Port of Everett Mount Baker Terminal on Thursday, June 27, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
2 killed in waterfront train crashes were near Mukilteo ‘quiet zone’

In June, two people were hit by trains on separate days near Mukilteo Boulevard. “These situations are incredibly tragic,” Everett’s mayor said.

Rob Plotnikoff takes a measurement as a part of the county's State of Our Waters survey at Tambark Creek in Bothell, Washington on Monday, July 1, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Snohomish County stream team bushwhacks a path to healthier waterways

This summer, the crew of three will survey 40 sites for the State of Our Waters program. It’s science in locals’ backyards.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
4th suspect arrested after Mountlake Terrace home robbery

Police arrested Taievion Rogers, 19, on Tuesday. Prosecutors charged his three alleged accomplices in April.

A 10 acre parcel off of Highway 99, between 240th and 242nd Street Southwest that the city of Edmonds is currently in the process of acquiring on Monday, July 10, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds ditches $37M Landmark public park project off Highway 99

The previous mayor envisioned parks and more in south Edmonds, in a historically neglected area. The new administration is battling budget woes.

Edmonds school official sworn in as Mount Vernon supe

Victor Vergara took his oath of office last week. He was assistant superintendent of equity and student success in Edmonds.

Big Lots announces it will shutter Everett and Lynnwood stores

Marysville store will remain open for now as declining sales and downturn in consumer spending were factors in the closures.

President Joe Biden speaks at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, in Greensboro, N.C., on April 14, 2022. Biden plans to nominate Michael Barr  to be the Federal Reserve's vice chairman of supervision. The selection of Barr comes after Biden's first choice for the Fed post, Sarah Bloom Raskin, withdrew her nomination a month ago (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Washington Democrats voice support for Biden’s decision to drop out of presidential race

Some quickly endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris to replace him on the ballot.

Teenager in stable condition after Everett drive-by shooting Saturday

Major Crime Unit detectives were looking for two suspects believed to have shot the teenager in the 600 block of 124th Street SW.

Miners Complex tops 500 acres in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Nine lightning-caused fires force trail closures and warnings 21 miles east of Darrington. No homes are threatened.

FILE — President Joe Biden arrives for a Medal of Honor ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, July 3, 2024. Biden abandoned his campaign for a second term under intense pressure from fellow Democrats on Sunday, July 21, upending the race for the White House in a dramatic last-minute bid to find a new candidate who can stop former President Donald Trump from returning to the White House. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
Biden drops out of race, endorses vice president Kamala Harris

The president announced the decision on social media Sunday.

A Mukilteo firefighter waves out of a fire truck. (Photo provided by Mukilteo Fire Department)
Mukilteo levy lid lift will hike average tax bill about $180 more a year

The lift will fund six more workers, ambulances, equipment and medical supplies. Opponents call it unnecessary.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.