Separatist vows death before allowing foreclosure

Masker threatens to kill officials, himself before letting county take golf course home

Spokane Spokesman Review/November 28, 2001
By Thomas Clouse and Winston Ross

Hayden Lake, Idaho -- White separatist Richard Masker has until Friday to pay Kootenai County $240 or he could lose his Hayden Lake home.

Until Monday, Masker's case had been handled like any of the other 1,100 or so where residents owe the county back taxes.

But a hand-delivered letter to Commissioner Ron Rankin changed all that.

The letter threatens a standoff if county officials try to foreclose the home on the fourth hole of the Avondale Golf and Tennis Club.

The Maskers owe the county about $10,000 in back taxes.

The letter -- which Masker claims he didn't send to the county -- specifically names Sheriff Rocky Watson and Kootenai County commissioners Rankin, Dick Panabaker, Gus Johnson and Treasurer Tom Malzahn.

In the letter, Masker threatened to kill any county official who tries to take his house. He also said he and his wife would commit suicide by burning down their home.

"We have ample food, water, ammo, insulin, and blankets. If Rocky Watson turns off our utilities we can still make a stand," the letter reads.

In an interview at his home Tuesday, Masker admitted writing the letter but would not elaborate.

"We never sent that to the county. We just sent it to relatives and friends," Masker said. "We are not talking."

Watson said, "We will take this threat very seriously. But there's a long ways before it gets to law enforcement's hands."

Rankin said all three commissioners had concerns.

"Why wouldn't one take (Masker) literally? It's a great concern," Rankin said.

Every couple of weeks, the sheriff's department gets letters threatening violence, Watson said.

But the one from Masker is different, Watson said.

"We have known of Richard Masker for many years," he said. "In my opinion, as time progressed, he's gotten more radical."

Masker's made his white separatist views public years ago. He's a longtime associate of Richard Butler, leader of the defunct Aryan Nations.

Masker once lived with Butler at the 20-acre Aryan compound.

Last year, Masker ran for state representative on a white-separatist platform. Masker managed to get 2,088 votes in a lopsided defeat to incumbent Don Pischner, who got 10,488 votes.

Watson said he doesn't consider Masker dangerous to others, but if pushed, he could carry through on the threat. "We could make him a danger to himself, if we forced the issue."

But that won't happen anytime soon, if at all, Watson said.

"They're not criminals. They didn't pay their taxes," Watson said. "Why rush into it?"

Panabaker said the Maskers can make this whole situation go away with a little cooperation.

"We don't want to see them lose their home, or burn their home or kill themselves," Panabaker said. "All we are asking them to do is pay their debt through this payment plan and I think they have the ability to do that."

Reached by phone in Wagner, Okla., Richard Masker's mother, Eleanor Masker, offered to help pay the tax bill if they could wait a month.

She had not heard of the letter until a reporter contacted her late Tuesday.

"Oh my. Oh my gosh. Oh dear," she said. "The last time I talked to him, he sounded fine. I've never heard of suicide before."

Panabaker said this is the third letter, each with a similar tone, that the county has received from Masker.

Masker owns the home, valued by the county at about $82,000 on a third of an acre worth about $32,000. On the home hangs a sign that says no trespassing for any government people.

The Maskers have told the county that they consider their home an inheritance for their children, Panabaker said.

"We've done everything we can do to help them along with a payment plan," Panabaker said. "We told them the last time if they didn't keep up with the payment plan that the county would go for foreclosure."

County records show that the Maskers paid about half of their taxes in 1997 but none since.

After months of negotiations, the Maskers agreed in March to a five-year payment plan of $240 a month to get them back to even.

Malzahn, the treasurer, said the Maskers made monthly payments until October but the November bill is due Friday.

Scott Poorman, legal counsel for the county, said the county will give the Maskers every opportunity to pay.

"The county does not want to take somebody's home," he said.

Malzahn said the county gets about 1,100 cases a year where residents fall behind in taxes. Of those only about 50 lead to foreclosure, and only about five of those properties are sold at auction.

Panabaker said the county has worked for more than two years to get the Maskers to pay the same taxes everyone is required to pay.

"If we waive these taxes, the rest of the taxpayers will have to pay the difference," he said. "Naturally, when people get in that situation they are not happy about it.

"But to my knowledge we've never got a threatening letter like that."

Rankin said it wasn't Masker who hand-delivered the letter. But Rankin would not identify the man.

"This came in to me as a warning that I should be concerned about this," Rankin said. "I want to protect the identity of the guy who brought it in because I don't want him to have some problems."

Once Rankin received the letter, he copied it and sent it to all of the commissioners and placed it in the public file for anyone to read.

"I want everything I do in that office on the record," Rankin said.

Masker's letter included a list of names, including his mother's, for friends to call.

None of the people on the list who were contacted by The Spokesman-Review knew anything about the letter.

Masker's beliefs have helped get him fired from at least two jobs, in Corvallis, Ore., and in Sandpoint, where he worked for the city.

In Corvallis, Masker was fired from a water treatment job for mailing Hitler birthday cards to Oregon State University instructors.

In Sandpoint, Masker was fired because he didn't show up to work for four days.

He didn't show up because he was in jail for refusing to pay a $30,000 loan he used to buy a Jeep.

Masker sued the city for wrongful termination.

He was last in the news at this year's Aryan Nations parade, where he didn't march, but stood on the sidelines, wearing a shirt that said "White pride, world wide."

In the back window of his black pickup, Masker has a sign that reads: "Treason Governs America."

Hayden resident Trilby Green said she has been a friend of Masker's wife, Deon, for years. Green said she worries about Deon, but hasn't talked to the Maskers in months and hasn't seen the letter.

"I kind of doubt they would do that," she said.

"That would be the epitome of stupidity."

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