‘The Hate Next Door:’ Taking on the most dangerous white supremacists in Arizona
The book is out now
MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — It’s a commitment Matt and Tawni Browning made decades ago: “To have and to hold.” The love story of Matt and Tawni Browning is unconventional because, at one point, death felt imminent.
“The first skinhead I ever met, ever ran into, he tried to kill me,” Matt said. But even today, the threat isn’t gone. This isn’t your typical happy ending. “I’ve had 9 hits on my life. The most recent one was about a year ago,” he said.
Matt says he relied on Tawni and his family to pull him out of the darkness. “For him to come home, I knew he had to come home to a place that was safe,” Tawni said. If it wasn’t for her, he would be dead, Matt said.
During his time undercover, Matt said he helped put away 18 skinheads from Phoenix for murder or attempted murder. He worked in the gang and intel units with the Mesa Police Department for years. However, embedding himself in white supremacist groups in the 90s to take them down was a new level of undercover danger even for him.
“And then I hooked up with the National Alliance,” said Matt. It all began with meeting three skinheads at a Denny’s. To them, he’d be known as Patrick.
“From that first meeting I went to at the Denny’s, from there everything went crazy,” Matt recalled. He had to convince these white supremacists he could be trusted — going to monthly meetings at a La Quinta hotel where guests and employees were all unaware of the monsters among them.
Briana: “And what’d you find out?”
Matt: “That I’m dealing with a bunch of murderers, cons, felons, horrible people doing hunting trips.”
Briana: “Hunting trips of humans?”
Matt: “Yeah, all these places that they would go targeting specifically minorities and gays. National Alliance is straight up white power, for the white people, the government is out to get us.”
They could not find out his real identity because his life was on the line at any moment. Infiltrating these violent hate groups meant immersing himself in their lifestyle. That’s not easy to do, and it got to the point where one person couldn’t watch him do that alone.
“Should I have been afraid? Yeah, probably,” Tawni said. While a date night concert seemed perfectly normal to most, Tawni herself was becoming part of the undercover operation. The Browning’s tag teamed intel under the guise of concertgoers at the Marquee Theater in Tempe, attending shows where bands had Nazi followings.
“So, what we would do is we would go; And I’d go be in the pit with all the skins, and Tawni would be in the back talking to them, and she would get more intel than I did,” Matt said.
“I was able to use a softer side and get into their hearts and minds,” said Tawni.
They were taking on some of the most infamous names in white supremacy, like J.T. Ready “Batman and Joker. I’m Batman and J.T. Ready is Joker. I’m always trying to get the Joker, but the Joker keeps moving around and keeps being protected by who knows who,” Matt said.
In 2012, J.T. Ready died by murder-suicide after killing his girlfriend and three others before turning the gun on himself.
Matt: “J.T. died knowing that I was out for him.”
Briana: “So how long did you have to do this before you could start making moves and making arrests?”
Matt: “13 years.”
Briana: “To gain their trust?”
Matt: “Yeah, to keep gathering intel.”
But a murder in 2002 outside a Phoenix pool hall rocked Matt and Tawni and raised the stakes of their undercover mission.
“Cole Bailey Jr. murder up on Bell Road, that wasn’t planned,” said Matt. Cole was a young, 20-year-old white man with serious health problems. He happened to be outside the building when skinheads felt disrespected inside and walked out angry, and they beat him up.
“And as Cole is trying to crawl away — hands and knees — through the parking lot, these skins are circling him and kick him to death,” Matt said. “I was supposed to be there at that pool hall when he was murdered but it was our anniversary.”
“There’s a lot of guilt there. Because what if I had just said, ‘Just go ahead and go.’ You know, there’s a lot of guilt for you too because he probably could have stopped that,” Tawni said.
“I can’t let crime be committed in my presence as an undercover if I’m there,” Matt said. “Cole got murdered, and it was on.”
Matt and his team eventually made nearly 20 arrests. But while speaking to the Senate about hate groups in Arizona, skinheads unexpectedly showed up, and Matt’s identity was revealed. With safety on the rocks, the Browning’s marriage was on the rocks too.
Tawni: “I called him and said it’s either this job or me.”
Matt: “She says come home; you’re done. And I never went back to work.”
Tawni: “Mentally we weren’t going to make it.”
Briana: “It wasn’t sustainable?”
Tawni: “It was not sustainable.”
What their family went through was traumatic and still is. The couple decided to write a book called “The Hate Next Door,” hoping writing would be a form of therapy — emotions expressed from pen to paper for the first time.
“We saw it at our own back porch, sometimes at the dinner table, in ways we never expected it, and I want people’s eyes to be open to that,” Tawni said. When asked if white supremacy exists in the here and now, Matt said, “100%, I think it’s safe to say we’re scared to death about what’s going to happen because the story is out,” he said. We can’t go back to the bookstores and online and say, ‘OK, we changed our minds’ and pull the book.”
It’s a new chapter of their love story, as unique and unorthodox as it comes. “The only reason I’m alive is because of Tawni and the kids,” Matt said.
For better or for worse. To love and cherish. ‘Til death do us part. The book “The Hate Next Door” is out now.
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