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An American citizen known to have fought with Kremlin-backed separatists in Ukraine — and who once ran for the U.S. Senate in Minnesota — has died in Russian-occupied territory, Moscow said Friday evening.

Russell Bentley, 64, was no longer involved in military operations and had previously worked for state-owned Russian news agency Sputnik, the Associated Press reported. His death was confirmed by his former battalion and by Margarita Simonyan, head of the state-funded television channel RT, who described him as "a real American," according to the AP.

No information has been released on the cause of Bentley's death, but local police had reported the American as missing on April 8.

A native Texan born into wealth, Bentley was an ideological and professional vagabond who drew fascination from the media, especially after 2014 when he left the United States to fight against so-called "Nazis" in Russia's widely condemned annexation of Crimea. He used the call sign "Texas" and had spent time in prison on charges of drug smuggling before leaving the U.S.

Bentley appears to have participated in armed combat, though his role as a Putin-parroting soldier of information warfare gained the most attention, including his video commentaries and podcasts of Russia's invasion into Ukraine in 2024. (His YouTube channel is no longer available, but at least some of his videos can be found online, such as this one posted to X.)

According to profiles in Rolling Stone and Texas Monthly, as well as statements to the Star Tribune, Bentley said no to formal education but yes to Che Guevara and pot by junior high. He was bribed with a Rolex by his father to join the Army (which he later praised as so egalitarian as to be "socialist"), waited tables in his parents' restaurant after they lost their fortune and played in various bands throughout.

Bentley followed a girlfriend to Minneapolis in 1990, where he listed his occupation as "tree surgeon" but concluded that a more appropriate pursuit was selling marijuana. While here, he became a political activist, mainly via the newly formed Grassroots Party, whose primary platform was legalizing cannabis.

In 1990, Bentley was the third candidate on the ballot in the U.S. Senate race in which DFL underdog Paul Wellstone defeated Republican Sen. Rudy Boschwitz. Bentley ran far behind and received 1.6% of the votes.

But his pot selling caught up with him. By 1996, federal officials accused him of drug conspiracy charges in connection with an investigation into hemp-grower Arlin Troutt, who in 1996 was the Grassroots Party's nominee for vice president.

At the time, Star Tribune columnist Doug Grow wrote: "Bentley, a gregarious fellow … has been pushing Troutt's candidacy. In addition, using the computer name 'Bongo,' Bentley has sent sympathetic reports about Troutt's drug trial out on the World Wide Web. Bentley's wife said that when her husband was busted two nights ago, agents said, 'We got Bongo!'"

Bentley was tried in Texas, convicted and sentenced to more than five years. He told Texas Monthly he was sent to a halfway house in Minneapolis but, months before his scheduled release, he failed a drug test and feared reincarceration. He said he used a pocket knife to cut open his screen window and escaped, becoming a fugitive in 1999.

He was recaptured in the state of Washington and served in a maximum security facility until his release in 2008, federal prison records show.