The man behind Sheriff Fnu Lnu

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

By WARREN CORNWALL and SCOTT NORTH

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?"

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