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The Real Story of How a Black Cop Infiltrated the KKK

The Real Story of How a Black Cop Infiltrated the KKK

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Among the white supremacist members of the Ku Klux Klan, Ron Stallworth stood out for a couple reasons: he was an undercover officer and he was a black man. In the fall of 1978, at the Colorado Springs Police Department, Stallworth saw an ad in the local newspaper calling for new members of the Klan. Intrigued, he sent off a letter using his real name, only expecting a brochure or pamphlet in response.

“I told him I hate ... anyone who isn’t pure Aryan white like I am,” Stallworth says, describing the contents of the letter.

About a week or two later, he received a phone call directly from Ken O’Dell, organizer of the Colorado Springs chapter of the KKK. That call would begin an astounding, seven month-long undercover operation that would take Stallworth down the rabbit hole of one of history’s most notorious hate groups.

The call came unexpectedly, however Stallworth played on what was already written in the letter. He even added to it, creating a sister who was dating a black man and saying “every time he puts his filthy black hands on her pure white body it makes me cringe.” That’s all it took for the O’Dell to take a liking to Stallworth’s character and request a meeting in person.

Of course, this represented a dilemma for Stallworth. When O’Dell asked how he’d be able to recognize him at their rendezvous point, he described a white undercover narcotics detective in his department with a similar build to him, a man Stallworth refers to as Chuck.

The fake, white Ron Stallworth would go out to meetings to collect intelligence while wearing a wire, while the actual Ron Stallworth would handle all calls and fill in his partner. And although Chuck and Stallworth had very dissimilar voices, the Klan never caught wind of the investigation.

As the undercover operation continued, Stallworth found himself in contact with David Duke, the leader and Grand Wizard of the KKK, over the phone. Their paths crossed when Stallworth called Duke to check on his membership application. Once Duke picked up, the initial 15-minute conversation became a weekly call between the two, with Duke unknowingly forming a bond with a black man.

During one ironic phone conversation, Duke told Stallworth how he could tell if the person he was talking to was black by their use of certain words. The word “are” in particular, Duke claimed, was a give-away. Duke told Stallworth that black people pronounce it as “are-rah” as opposed to “are.”

“And from that point on whenever I called him up, I would say ‘Hello Mr. Duke, how are-ah you doing?’” says Stallworth, amusedly. “I would basically use that to poke fun at the fact that he thought he was so self-righteously intelligent that a black man couldn’t be pulling a scam on him and he was being made a fool of the whole time.”

It wasn’t the only time Stallworth would fool Duke. As fate would have it, Stallworth had to work as Duke’s bodyguard in January 1979 when he came to Colorado to recruit new members. Despite objections to his police chief that the task could potentially ruin his investigation, the undercover Klansman was the only cop in the intelligence department available for the job.

When the two met face-to-face, Stallworth made it clear that he didn’t agree with Duke’s ideologies but would protect him as his duty required. Duke, surprisingly, was very cordial in their encounter, even shaking hands with Stallworth. The handshake Duke gave was the official Klan handshake—placing the index finger and middle finger against the wrist of the other person and wiggling the fingers as you shake. Most non-Klan members would probably not have even noticed that Duke used the special handshake—but Stallworth was aware.

Duke never recognized Stallworth’s voice, and before the pair parted ways they had their photo taken together. At the last second, Stallworth put his arm around Duke, causing the Klan leader to momentarily become flushed with anger.

After seven months, the investigation came to a close when O’Dell nominated Stallworth to become a chapter leader for being a loyal and dedicated Klansman. The development caused the chief to shut down the investigation before it could go any further. As a result of the operation, several Klan members were identified as Army recruits, though none were arrested.

The investigation as a whole was kept under wraps until an interview Stallworth did in 2006. He went on to publish a book, Black Klansman, detailing the investigation in full, and the book has now been made into a film, BlacKkKlansman, by Spike Lee.

The black detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan

The local KKK leader thought he’d found an enthusiastic new recruit. In fact, he’d inadvertently signed up a black policeman. Ron Stallworth reveals the often hilarious saga that has now become a Spike Lee film

Last modified on Mon 6 Aug 2018 19.51 BST

I t is late October, 1978, in Colorado Springs when Ken O’Dell, a closet member of the newly resurgent Ku Klux Klan, receives an encouraging sign that his strategy of placing ads in the personal section of the local paper for new recruits has met with some success. Ken has been sent a letter from a man called Ron Stallworth. Ron, he says in his letter, wants to “further the cause of the white race” – and to join the Klan. Before long the two men are in enthusiastic telephone contact. Ken, who loathes blacks, Jews, Catholics and any other minority he can think of, sees Ron as a kindred spirit. Indeed, Ken is so impressed by Ron that, over the coming months, he will not only make sure that Ron gains membership and full access to the Klan, but he’ll even tout him as a future leader of the local chapter. Unfortunately for Ken, there are a couple of things about Ron he doesn’t know –and won’t know until 28 years later when Ron reveals them in a newspaper interview. First, Ron is an undercover police officer. Second – and this never fails to crack Ron up every time he thinks of it – Ron is black. “I was having a lot of fun,” he says.

The story of how a black police officer infiltrated the KKK is at first so hard to wrap your mind around that you may question how it can possibly be true. But once you’ve taken account of the state of late 1970s technology, it becomes easier to understand how such an audacious and thrilling police sting could ever have come into being. No internet, no smart phones: resurgent underground terrorist organisations have to rely on letter writing and telephone calls for their secret communications. Ken has no way of knowing, for example, that the voice on the other end of the telephone line, fulminating against “slaves” and “mud people” belongs to anyone but what Ken likes to call “an intelligent white man” – like himself. Ken falls for it.

“Fortunately the people I was dealing with weren’t the brightest bulbs in the socket,” Ron says. What happened next is the proudest, most off-the-wall moment of his career in law enforcement. “It was so hilariously funny that this was even taking place. But funny as it was, it was an investigation that we took seriously – because the Klan’s intent was very serious.”

I stumbled across Ron’s story last year in an article written in 2006 in the Deseret News, a Utah newspaper. Ron was well known for having set up the state’s first Gang Task Force, but when asked to name his most significant career achievement he dropped a bombshell and said: “The year I went undercover with the KKK.” The story went viral.

I tracked Ron Stallworth down in El Paso, Texas, the border town where he’d grown up. Ron, now 65, is living a comfortable married life. He is retired, though still deeply loyal to the police force, and there is a grouchy rebelliousness to him: “I don’t care what they think,” he says calmly when I ask him what his former colleagues, his parents, the KKK, the world make of his surveillance work, or anything else. Ron was 21 when he joined the police as a patrol officer – the only black person working in the entire department. The Klan investigation came out of the blue, four years later – what a gift to a spirited and ambitious young cop. At one point in our conversation he opens his wallet to show me a memento: his Klan membership card, issued in 1979. He was ordered, on its termination, to destroy all evidence of the investigation, but it’s typical of Ron’s rebellious nature to have kept the card anyway.

There’d been talk over the years of his story being made into the film – it had never happened. But shortly before I first made contact with Ron, the director Spike Lee had finally given the project the green light. Ron tells me he is very excited, “somewhat overwhelmed”, that the film director is flying him to New York for a read-through of his film adaptation of Ron’s life. “Spike has been very respectful, he has said he values my opinion.” BlacKkKlansman is going to be a return to form for Lee, predict critics: a strong contender for film of the year when it’s released next month. Lee cast John David Washington as the younger Ron. The older Ron admits that, as an admirer of Denzel Washington, he is excited to see what the actor’s son will make of the role.

It’s baffling that it has taken more than two decades for such an astonishing story to be adapted. “It wouldn’t have been made if Trump wasn’t occupying the White House” (Ron won’t dignify the present incumbent with the word “President”): Charlottesville, where last August neo-Nazis and white nationalists clashed with anti-fascist demonstrators, accelerated Lee’s race to get the film finished. The question arises, how could Ron, a black man, have possibly embedded himself in a white supremacist organisation? What happened when he had to meet these people in the flesh? “I called my friend Chuck,” Ron says.

It was never actually intended to be a sting, explains Ron. The police were worried at the time, and wanted to find out more about Klan activities, so Ron did some homework. “When I saw that ad in the newspaper I wrote back, thinking they’d just send me some pamphlets.” Instead, Ken O’Dell called him directly, identifying himself as the local organiser of “The Cause”. Ron hadn’t been prepared for that phone call, but he’d had the presence of mind to include in his letter an untraceable number which fed directly into the police department. That said, he also made two howling errors: he’d signed his letter to the KKK ad with his own name, and “I broke the most basic rule of all and that was going into a case without a plan of operation.” Talking to Ken that first time, Ron improvised as best he could: “My sister was recently involved with a nigger,” Ron angrily told Ken during the phone call, “and every time I think about him putting his filthy black hands on her pure white body I get disgusted and sick to my stomach.” “You’re the kind of person we’re looking for,” said Ken. “When can we meet?”

Chuck now enters, stage left. Ron decided there needed to be two Ron Stallworths: the black version (himself) who would continue written correspondence and manage the untraceable phone line and the white version, Chuck, a friend of Ron’s who worked in the narcotics department, who would deal with the KKK’s cloak-and-dagger meet-ups when they arose.

Chuck was game but senior staff were against the idea, arguing: “They’ll know you’re a black man from the sound of your voice.” Ron explains how US law enforcement was at the time somewhat confused between its own prejudices and its determination to crack down on race hate crimes. It didn’t want a replay of the riots of the late 1960s and early 70s. White supremacist groups and, at the other extreme, Black Panthers, covertly or not, advocated armed combat. In Denver, the Klan had recently burned several 14ft crosses in strategic locations a black man escorting a white woman to the cinema had been shot dead antisemitism was on the rise. African-Americans did not take well to Ron joining the police force, he says: “I was too ‘white’, too ‘blue’” his white colleagues, meanwhile, gawped at his Afro.

Ron Stallworth in patrol uniform. African-Americans did not take well to Ron joining the police force, he says: “I was too ‘white’, too ‘blue’” and his white colleagues gawped at his Afro

“I didn’t care, and I still don’t care what anyone thought,” says Ron. He charmed and bulldozed the powers-that-be that not every black person “shucked and jived”, or engaged in criminal behaviour. “They harboured no bigotry against me personally, but hadn’t reached the point where they could see past their stereotypes.”

The grocery and bicycle store on Main Street, Colorado Springs, are no longer there, but the Kwik Inn is still standing. A 1950s diner, it looks exactly as it did when Ken chose it as the location for his first meeting with Ron. He was to turn up there at 7pm where he’d be met by a skinny, cigar-smoking white man with a Fu Manchu moustache, who would take him to a secret location to discuss Ron’s eligibility for membership of the Klan. Chuck, the “white Ron”, set off, wired up, with the black Ron and a second narcotics investigator called Jimmy trailing his movements from a surveillance vehicle.

A mile or so later, the skinny cigar smoker pulled up outside a dive bar that the local Klan used as its recruitment centre. Ken was inside with another man, and a Klan membership form for Ron. Ken was 28, short and stocky – an army man. The military base, Fort Carson, was a short drive away. Ken boasted that, under him, the Crusader, the Klan newspaper, was now widely circulating in Colorado prisons and military staff were secretly joining in droves. What is certainly true is that many white military men resented the new black presence among their officers – a perfect opportunity for the Klan to widen its base. Ken was satisfied that Ron didn’t have “any Jew in him”, and explained that membership cost $10, but new recruits had to pay extra for a robe and cloak.

It was often, says Ron, very hard not to burst out laughing at the credulity and the petty officiousness of the Klan members. Back at the police station, he recalls, “My sergeant would sometimes be laughing so hard he’d have to excuse himself from the room.”

Only once did any members of the Klan get suspicious. “Chuck had been to a meeting with the Klan members and there had been something I wanted to follow up on so, a couple of hours after Chuck left the meeting, I called Ken. He immediately said: ‘What’s wrong with your voice?’ So I coughed a bit and said I had a sinus infection. Ken proceeded to prescribe me a remedy. He said: ‘I get those all the time.’”

The deeper the investigation probed, the less laughable the inept Klansmen became. Soon after that first meeting, Ken called Ron to invite him to his house. Ken and a small group of “losers” (Ron’s words) were assembled in the living room, including the group’s second-in-command, its treasurer and a bodyguard. Plans to burn four 17ft crosses were discussed and finalised: everyone in the group agreed it would be a deeply moving religious experience. Publicly, the Klan were against violence. Ken gave White Ron the tour of his own personal arsenal, which included 13 shotguns, plus the weapons he carried in his vehicles.

As special guests at his next rendezvous, Ken invited the leaders of a powerful Nazi survivalist group, Posse Comitatus. Together they watched a screening of a nationalist film and discussed collaborating on terrorist activities.

David Duke, the white supremacist politician and a holocaust denier, is still an influential person in American political life. In May, he accused Trump of “stealing” his Build The Wall slogan, which he’d coined in the 1970s. At the time of Ron’s investigation, Duke was the Klan’s newly appointed leader or Grand Wizard: a clean-cut and reasonable-seeming man “He was a Dr Jekyll but he’d turn into Mr Hyde in private conversations,” remembers Ron. In the pivotal breakthrough in the case, Ron was put on to Duke to check the status of his membership card.

Duke is a PR man to his core. In the view of the Far Right, his greatest achievement was conferring respectability on the KKK, banning his members from wearing hoods and robes in public, and aligning “The Cause” with fundamental Christianity and dissatisfaction with the government. “Duke was a con artist,” says Ron. “His appearance was that of an all-American boy every mother would want as a prom date for her daughter.” “Racial Purity Is America’s Security” is the slogan he used when he ran for Louisiana state senator – as a Democrat.

Ron established a friendly relationship with Duke over the phone. He describes him as “a very pleasant conversationalist”. Duke presided over Chuck’s solemn candle-lit naturalisation ceremony. “I laugh all the time about our investigation, especially about making a fool of David Duke, who likes to think I don’t have the intelligence of an ape because he thinks I’m genetically inferior,” says Ron. “How I conned the Grand Wizard, David Duke, and his coterie of followers… It has defined me in ways I never could have imagined.”

As fascinating as Ron’s story is, what did he actually achieve? The sting never resulted in any arrests and when, months in, the Klan unexpectedly nominated Ron as its local group leader, he was forced to shut down the investigation. If the story got out, Colorado police worried it would be misconstrued: in the 1920s, Denver’s head of police was a Klansman. But through their work, Chuck and Ron had foiled a Neo-Nazi plot to nail-bomb a gay bar and identified seven Klansman army personnel. They’d discovered where the local Klan kept its money. Ron also uncovered intelligence regarding violent plots among black extremists.

In mid-1979, the investigation was terminated. A year later Duke left the Klan to form the National Association for the Advancement of White People. Ron followed his career in law enforcement to Wyoming, Arizona and Utah, specialising in gangs. When he retired in 2006, he gave that bombshell newspaper interview. The FBI called him after the piece went viral: Ron’s name, picture and alleged home address had been published on white supremacist websites. “After that, I started carrying a gun again,” he tells me. Was he frightened? “I have never had a fear of white people. As a child, if anyone called me a nigger, my mother would say: ‘I hope you whipped his ass!’”

Ron says that in the 1970s white extremism was considered weird and fanatical, but he’s shocked that it has now become mainstream. “If someone had predicted it back then, I’d have said they were out of their mind,” he says. “We’ve always had people in public office who were more middle ground. They work together. Trump, who is a billionaire, an ‘educated man’, essentially has the same message as Duke had on the phone. The very fact he equates Neo-Nazis [after Charlottesville] as ‘very fine people…’”

As for the film, he says: “Spike’s take on the book is pretty accurate,” Ron says. “I got a lot of joy from telling my story.” I can hear him smiling on the other end of the phone.

This article was amended on 25 July 2018 to correct the title of a Utah newspaper: Deseret News, not Desert News.

Spike Lee’s movie about a black cop infiltrating the KKK is a subtweet of Donald Trump

NEW YORK — Spike Lee has been opining for a few minutes now: Isn’t it ludicrous that people call football players unworthy of living in this country for kneeling during the national anthem, he says, when the first American who died during the Revolutionary War was a black man?

“So nobody can tell black people s--- about going somewhere else,” he concludes. “Along with the genocide of Native Americans, this country got built cost-free from slavery.”

Seated on a bright purple couch in the Brooklyn office of his company, 40 Acres & a Mule Filmworks, Lee eventually pauses. It all comes down to love vs. hate, he says — it always has. That is why the two words appeared on the knuckle rings of Radio Raheem, a fictional character killed by police officers at the climax of Lee’s 1989 film “Do the Right Thing.” Some claim Lee is on a soapbox, but he really just wants to be on the loving side of history.

The provocative filmmaker, 61, has recently faced hurdles in his everlasting pursuit of this goal: “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” opened to less-than-lukewarm applause in 2014, and the satirical depiction of violence in 2015’s “Chi-Raq” insulted some Chicago natives. But the latest Spike Lee joint, “BlacKkKlansman,” attempts to capture racial tension with the same clarity of “Do the Right Thing,” which Roger Ebert wrote came “closer to reflecting the current state of race relations in America than any other movie of our time.” Only this time, he attempts to do so using a story from the past.

“BlacKkKlansman,” which took home the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Grand Prix in May, tells the real-life story of a black Colorado Springs cop named Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1970s by pretending to be a white man over the phone. But it also connects the Klan’s racism to what spurred last year’s Charlottesville rallies and even directly attacks the Trump administration for perpetuating such behavior.

Lee held such “precise opinions” throughout the project, co-writer Kevin Willmott says, that make today’s rant seem comparatively scattered. He frequently trails off in the middle of sentences, gazing off through his orange, thick-rimmed glasses. There is simply too much buzzing in his mind. From where he stands, hypocrisy among those in power, dubbed “snake oil salesman,” has reached an almost unfathomable level.

BlacKkKlansman: The black man who took on the Klan

In October 1978 Ron Stallworth, the first black detective in the history of the Colorado Springs Police Department, saw a classified advert in one of the city's daily newspapers.

The ad invited readers interested in receiving information from the Ku Klux Klan to write to a PO box located in a nearby town.

Stallworth, curiosity piqued, wrote a note to the PO box under his own name. In it he claimed to be a white man who was interested in learning more about the KKK's activities.

Two weeks later he received a phone call from the local organiser of the Klan's Colorado Springs chapter, asking him why he wished to join.

From these speculative beginnings sprang an audacious undercover investigation, conducted first over the phone but eventually involving face-to-face contact.

It led to one of Stallworth's white colleagues impersonating him with such success he was invited to become leader of the Klan's local chapter.

It also led to the exposure of white supremacists in the military, the thwarting of numerous planned cross burnings and Stallworth becoming a card-carrying member of one of America's most detested organisations.

Most detested, yes. Brightest, no. At no point during Stallworth's investigation did his fellow Knights of the Ku Klux Klan suspect the man they were talking to over the phone and the man who was attending their meetings were not the same person.

Their favoured method of setting their kerosene-soaked wooden crucifixes alight, meanwhile, was literally inspired by something theyɽ seen in a movie.

Outside his investigation, Stallworth found himself in the unusual position of providing personal protection to David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the KKK.

Throughout their somewhat chilly encounter, Duke had no notion the police detective on his security detail was the Ron Stallworth heɽ been conversing with amicably over the telephone.

Duke, in fact, once bragged he could instantly identify the race of a person from how they spoke - a remark Stallworth said had him "cracking up laughing".

It sounds like a wacky prank, pulled off with elan and daring. Yet the sympathies and sentiments Stallworth was involved in exposing are no laughing matter.

A year ago this month, 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia when a white nationalist driver ploughed his car into a crowd of people protesting against a far-right rally.

Footage of the incident is shown at the end of Spike Lee's film, proving the racism and bigotry expressed by Stallworth's unwitting dupes have not gone away.

"We had to connect the two eras," Lee tells the BBC. "To tell this story in the best way possible, it could not just be a period piece set in the 1970s.

"From the very beginning, we wanted to drop enough stuff into it that people would think 'hey, this is happening today'."

"It's so important Spike made this film now," says actress Laura Harrier, who plays a student activist, who embarks on a romance with the on-screen Stallworth.

"We are still battling racism and hatred all over the world and the footage at the end of the film clearly shows how timely it is."

Harrier's Patrice character is an Afro-sporting fiction who does not appear in the 2014 memoir on which Lee's film is based.

Neither does Flip Zimmerman, the film's version of the real-life detective who became Stallworth's stand-in on occasions when a white version of him was needed.

Adam Driver, who plays Flip in BlacKkKlansman, concedes there are parallels to be drawn between the business of acting and undercover detecting.

"The difference is with one you're pretending the stakes are life and death, and with the other they actually are," he clarifies. "The stakes could not be higher."

The real Stallworth eventually left Colorado to become an investigator in Utah, where he became a recognised expert in the correlation between gangster rap music and street gang culture.

He retired in 2005, after which he wrote the memoir that saw him receive death threats from outraged white supremacists.

"I know that in spite of my varied career accomplishments, the one that will always excite and intrigue is the KKK investigation," he writes at the end of his book.

"It has defined me in ways unimaginable and has always fascinated those who hear its tale."

BlacKkKlansman is out in the UK on 24 August. BlacKkKlansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime by Ron Stallworth is published by Arrow Books.

How A Black Detective Infiltrated The KKK

Ron Stallworth (pictured here in 1975) was the first black detective in the history of the Colorado Springs Police Department.

Courtesy of Ron Stallworth

In 1978, Ron Stallworth was working as a detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department when he came across a classified ad to find out more about the Ku Klux Klan — and answered it. Two weeks later, he got a call on the police department's undercover operations line. It was the local KKK organizer. He asked why Stallworth wanted to join the Klan.

"I said I wanted to join because I was a pure, Aryan, white man who was tired of the abuse of the white race by blacks and other minorities," Stallworth recalls.

But Stallworth — a highly decorated law enforcement veteran — is actually black. In his new memoir, Black Klansman, he tells the story of how he hoodwinked the Ku Klux Klan into thinking he was one of them. (As you might imagine, this conversation includes some racist language.)

Interview Highlights

On why the Colorado Springs Police Department was investigating the Klan

My job as an intelligence officer, detective, was to monitor any subversive activity which could negatively impact the city of Colorado Springs. And, let's face it, the Ku Klux Klan historically is a subversive group. . And when I saw the ad in the newspaper, obviously I perked up to this fact and set about trying to address it, to understand it.

On how he infiltrated the Klan

Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime

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When you've grown up and you've been called "nigger" many times in the course of your lifetime, and you've been treated negatively because of your race, it's not too hard to put on that front. .

The gambit was: I obviously, as a black man of African descent, could not meet a white supremacist posing as a KKK member. So I had to have a white officer introduced into the mix posing as Ron Stallworth. So I got an undercover narcotics detective friend of mine — in the book, he's identified as Chuck, that's not his real name — but I had Chuck pose as me. And for the initial meeting, I gave him any identification that I had minus a photograph, so that if they should question him about being me he could pull those out and, you know, convince them. And it worked. We did this for seven and a half months.

On the Klan organizer he and his partner interacted with

Ken O'dell, the local organizer that I answered the initial phone call with, he was a soldier at Fort Carson, Colo., about 5' 9", stocky. He was not — none of these guys were, as I say in my book, the brightest light bulbs in the socket. Because if they were, they would have known that they were talking to two different people — one on the phone and one in person — because my voice and Chuck's voice sound nothing alike. But they never picked up on it in seven and a half months of phone conversations and periodic face-to-face meetings with Chuck.

On meeting then-KKK leader David Duke and receiving the Klan handshake from him


How One Man Convinced 200 Ku Klux Klan Members To Give Up Their Robes

Code Switch

Why The KKK Is Reaching Out Beyond White Folks

Code Switch

Tracing The Dark Origins Of Charlottesville's KKK

David Duke came into town in January for a publicity blitz. He was going to appear at a couple of radio stations, a TV station doing a debate with a black history professor. . And he was getting death threats. My chief called me in the morning of his appearance in Colorado Springs, and my chief told me he was assigning me to be David Duke's bodyguard because of the death threats.

I met David Duke and introduced myself without giving him my name. I simply said, "I am a detective with the Colorado Springs Police Department." And then I told him, "I don't believe in your philosophy or your political ideology, but I am a professional and I will do everything within my means to ensure your safety while you're in my city."

He was very cordial. He shook my hand. He gave me the Klan handshake — he didn't know that I knew it was the Klan handshake, but he did give it to me. If you shake a person's hand and you extend your index and middle finger along their wrist and as you're pumping their hand you start pressing your fingers in their wrist area, it's the Klan handshake. .

When he was not talking about race, David Duke was a very pleasant guy to talk to. He was a very nice conversationalist. He seemed like a regular guy on the phone when the subject wasn't on race and on Jews and ethnicity. When that subject came around, the Dr. Jekyll in him left and Mr. Hyde appeared — the monster appeared.

On what he learned about the KKK

Well one thing I learned is that they're very serious about their objective, their agenda. They truly believe that they, as white people, are inherently superior to blacks, Jews and other minorities. That was part of David Duke's agenda, is to turn the Klan from a racist organization in the eyes of the public into something that is respectable and acceptable. And sadly to say, with the gentleman we have in the White House, part of that has been accomplished.

There is a historical thread from the David Duke that I dealt with and what he was saying — his approach to immigration and other issues impacting the country — a connection between him and what Donald Trump campaigned on and what Donald Trump is a governing by. That historical thread is quite obvious if you sit back and connect the dots. I connect them a little bit in my book. It is addressed in the movie. But in many respects, David Duke was the playbook. He established the playbook by which Donald Trump ran and ultimately became — I won't even use the term — let's just say he became the occupant of the White House.

Hiba Ahmad and Barrie Hardymon produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Nicole Cohen adapted it for the Web.

Ron Stallworth Gets Into Law Enforcemnt

Ever since the Ku Klux Klan formed in 1865, the white supremacy group’s level of power has gone through waves. As a reaction to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the KKK in the 1970s had a strong following. They murdered civil rights workers and planted firebombs on school buses. There was the Greensboro massacre, where five protesters were killed by KKK members in North Carolina.

And then there was Ron Stallworth.

It was the summer of 1972 when 19-year-old Ron Stallworth moved from El Paso, Texas to Colorado Springs, Colorado. As he was already interested in a law enforcement career, he enrolled in a cadet program designed to bring more minorities into the department. He ended up being the first black cadet in the program

YouTube Ron Stallworth today.

The department didn’t meet him with open arms. His interview panel told him that he’d be challenged, that the environment would be hostile, and essentially said he’d be the “Jackie Robinson” of the department.

But Ron Stallworth completed the cadet program and became the department’s youngest and first black detective at 22. He wasn’t into the uniforms though and even as a cadet, he knew he wanted to do undercover work.

“When I first saw the narcotics officers walking around—these guys with long beards and long hair looking like San Francisco hippies—I liked the fact that these guys were actually cops wearing guns, carrying badges. I thought that was the neatest thing, to look like that and be a police officer,” he said.

Whenever Stallworth saw the sergeant in charge of narcotics he’d say, “Hey, Art, make me a narc!”

He got his first shot at undercover work when Stokely Carmichael, the Black Panther activist, came to town to give a speech. Stallworth was asked to listen in and report anything interesting. “It was my first brush with living black history,” said Stallworth, who described Carmichael as a “fiery, bombastic speaker.”

The true story behind BlacKkKlansman: How a black police detective infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan

Ron Stallworth was the first African-American detective in the history of the Colorado Springs Police Department — and a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

His membership was part of an undercover investigation in the late 1970s, which uncovered links between the KKK and armed hate groups across the U.S.

His book Black Klansman: A Memoir was the basis for Spike Lee's latest film, BlacKkKlansman.

Stallworth spoke to The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti about how he became a card-carrying member of the KKK. Here is part of their conversation.

How did you decide to contact the KKK?

I was sitting in my office, as the movie depicts, reading the newspaper and I saw this classified ad. It simply said: "Ku Klux Klan, for information," and then there was a PO box.

I actually wrote a letter to that PO box and in the letter I basically said . I wanted to join in order to stop the abuse of the white race.

And put it in the mail, and forgot about it.

About a week or two later, I got a phone call from a gentleman, who described himself as Ken O⟞ll, the local organizer for the Colorado Springs chapter of the KKK, and he wanted to know why I wanted to be in the Klan.

So I repeated what I wrote in the letter and then I spiced it up a little bit. I said "My sister has been dating a N-word person, and every time he puts his filthy black hands on her pure white body, I cringe." I said I wanna join so I can stop the abuse of the white race.

His response to me was "You're just the kind of guy we're looking for, when can we meet?"

And with that, I ended up launching a seven-and-a-half-month undercover investigation into the KKK.

So [meeting] face to face — this brings us to your colleague Chuck. How did he get picked to go and pretend to be you?

I picked him. Chuck was a narcotics officer. He was a good cop, he was a good undercover cop, and he was about my height, my weight. And when Ken O⟞ll asked how he would know me at this meeting, I described basically Chuck.

When I sent Chuck into the meeting, I gave Chuck any ID I had [that was] minus a picture. He had credit cards, library card, social security card, anything that identified him as Ron Stallworth, but there was no picture attached to the identification, just in case they should try to ask him to prove he was who he said he was.

Did you get any kind of secret joy in knowing that you, as an African-American, was hoodwinking the Klan as this investigation went forward?

Oh it wasn't a secret, I was having fun. I was having fun making fools out of them, especially David Duke, who prided himself on his intelligence.

You were assigned to guard [Duke] when he came to Colorado Springs. How did that go?

On the day he arrived, January 10th, 1979 for a publicity blitz, my chief came to me and told me that they were receiving death threats against Duke. He didn't want anything to happen to him while he was in Colorado Springs, so the chief said: "I don't have anybody else available, you are going to be his security."

And he didn't go: "Gee, your voice sounds familiar" after the phone conversations?

Well, that was part of my apprehension in going and doing this assignment. But when I met with him, I identified myself as a detective — I never gave him my name, I said: "I am a detective with the Colorado Springs Police Department. You're receiving death threats and I've been assigned as your security."

I said: "I am a professional, I don't agree with your political ideology, but I will do everything I can to ensure that you get out of my city safely."

He then gave me the Klan handshake, he thanked me — very kind, very polite — and that's when I asked him if he would mind taking a photo with me. I had brought a Polaroid camera, and I hadn't planned anything, other than to get a picture of me with him, and he said: "Sure, not at all."

So I put my arm around him. Duke on my right, the Grand Dragon on my left.

I put my arm on their shoulders, and Duke pushed my arm away. He said: "I'm sorry, but I can be seen in a photo with you like that."

I said: "I understand, excuse me."

I walk over to Chuck and I said: "On the count of three, snap the photo."

Then I went back, stood between David Duke and the Grand Dragon, with my hands down by my waist. And I said: "One, two…" and on the count of three I raised my hands, put my arms around their shoulders and the photo was snapped.

Duke bolted away from me, tried to snatch the camera and the photo out of Chuck's hands, and I got it and he reached over to try to get it for me, and I looked at him and said: "If you touch me, I will arrest you for assault on a police officer, that's worth about five years in prison — don't do it."

When I said don't do it, Duke just glared at me with the most intense look of hatred you can imagine, and I glared back at him with a sly smirk on my face.

He then walked away over to his followers, who were also stunned. Shortly thereafter he proceeded to give one of his white superiority speeches that I had quite frankly just destroyed.

Produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal. Q&A edited for clarity and length. Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.

The amazing story of black cop Ron Stallworth who infiltrated the KKK and that’s now been made into blockbuster movie BlacKkKlansman

HE was a daring cop who infiltrated America’s feared Ku Klux Klan – duping Grand Wizard David Duke and foiling deadly attacks.

But one major difference marked out Ron Stallworth from other undercover officers fighting the racist Klan in the 1970s . . . he was BLACK.

Teaming up with a white officer to share a single identity, Ron pulled off one of the most audacious stings in police history. His enthralling true story has now been made into the movie, BlacKkKlansman. But first director Spike Lee had to be convinced the tale was real.

In events that seem too fanciful even for Hollywood, Ron became the first black member of the all-white KKK.

Ron’s gripping memoir tells how he was even asked to LEAD the vile group’s Colorado Springs chapter, so convincing was his cover. The intelligence he gathered let cops stop bombings, stamp out the burning of crosses to intimidate black locals and also identify white supremacists in the military ready to prepare explosives and supply guns.

Ron — played in the movie by John David Washington, son of Hollywood A-lister Denzel — recalls: “From an intelligence standpoint, we were successful. No cross-burnings in seven and a half months during this investigation.

“They talked about bombing two gay bars — but they didn’t. We stopped two Klansmen whose job in the military was to deal with explosives from carrying out a threat to bomb. They talked about stealing automatic weapons from Fort Carson (army base) in preparation for a race war. We gained valuable intelligence.”

For decades, the KKK waged a campaign of hate, violence and murder against non-whites. Ron was frequently on the receiving end of racist abuse.

He was sworn in as a Colorado Springs police officer on his 21st birthday in 1974, and spent those first years honing his skills as an undercover cop, becoming their first black undercover narcotics detective.

His infiltration of the KKK came about almost by chance. In 1978, while scanning the local papers for suspicious activity, Ron spotted a classified ad for a local KKK chapter. He answered using his real name, doubting he would hear back.

Now 65 and retired, Ron says: “I told him I was a white man, that I hated blacks, Jews, Mexicans, Asians, that I thought the white man had not got a fair deal in this country. I signed my real name instead of my undercover name and mailed it off, thinking I would get a pamphlet, a brochure or something.”

Two weeks later, the phone rang at Ron’s desk. To his amazement, it was a local KKK organiser.Shocked Ron reached for the most hate-filled response he thought would impress a Klan member.
He said his sister had been dating a black man and he wanted to “stop these things from happening”.

The delighted Klansman replied: “You are just the kind of guy we are looking for. When can we meet?”

Ron says: “I had to formulate a plan real quick. I told him I couldn’t meet him now. We agreed to meet a week later.I started putting things in motion, getting a white officer to pose as me for this face-to-face meeting.”

Ron scrambled to put together an official investigation, recruiting narcotics officer “Chuck” — not his real name — to play Ron in person. He would conduct most of the work over the phone, while Chuck went to secret Klan meetings. Star Wars’ Adam Driver plays a character similar to Chuck in the movie.

Though their voices sounded very different, the investigation was never rumbled — despite one close call.

Ron, who now lives in Utah, says: “The people I was dealing with were not, to use an old adage, the brightest bulbs in the socket. Only once in the entire seven months of the investigation was I ever challenged as to why my voice sounded different to Chuck’s.

“Chuck had gone to a meeting I set up and later that day, as I thought about something said at that meeting, I got on the phone and called the local organiser. I started talking as if I’d been at the meeting.

“But he said, ‘You sound different — what’s the matter?’ I coughed a couple of times and said I had a sinus infection. He said, ‘Oh, I get those all the time. Here’s what you need to do to take care of that’.”

Ron even had conversations with “Grand Wizard” David Duke — a former Klan boss and one of America’s most reviled racists.

Ron came across a phone number for “the Voice of the Klan” and Duke, played in the movie by Topher Grace, picked up on the other end.

Ron says: “He laughed and said, ‘I’m the Voice of the Klan’. He identified himself as the Grand Wizard, the director. I told him I was a new Colorado Springs chapter member and was honoured to speak with him.

“He was very much like Donald Trump in that he liked to be fawned over. He liked flattery. I played that game and flattered him a lot.”

During their conversations, Duke, now 68, had no idea he was talking to a black man. He found out for the first time a decade ago. Ron even describes Duke — a white supremacist and Holocaust denier — as being pleasant to talk to when he wasn’t discussing race.

Ron says: “Inevitably, race would come up. Dr Jekyll turned into Mr Hyde and the monster in him came out. He said vile things about racial groups and people of colour, ethnicities and people, as they put it, who were not ‘pure Aryan white’.”

The racism Ron fought has not gone away Ron cheekily asked Duke if he ever worried about talking to black men over the phone without realising.

The clueless Duke told Ron he could tell if callers “weren’t pure Aryan white” by the way they pronounced “certain words and phrases”. The remark had Ron “cracking up laughing”.

In another twist, Ron was asked in his role as police officer to guard Duke at a rally in Colorado. Duke never recognised the man he had been speaking to on the phone.Ron even had a Polaroid photo taken with Duke, throwing his arms around the Klan leader. Behind the camera was Chuck, the cop who played his white alter ego.

Ron says: “Duke ran to get (the photo) out of my hand. I told him, ‘If you touch me, I will arrest you for assault of a police officer. That is worth about five years in prison. Don’t do it’. He stood there dumbfounded.”

Sadly, the picture was lost as Ron moved house 40 years ago.

His undercover operation was brought to a close in March 1979, after the local organiser of the Colorado Springs Klan asked Ron to take over as LEADER. Instead, he was ordered by the police chief to shut down the investigation and cease all contact with the group.

Ron says: “The chief made it clear he wanted ‘Ron Stallworth, Klansman’ to completely disappear.”

No arrests were made during the sting. Ron says: “That was always a bone of contention around law enforcement circles — and among people like David Duke, who try to downplay it. Nobody was arrested for a criminal offence.”

But, Ron insists, the investigation WAS a success. When he got a tip that a cross-burning was about to happen, the police would send cars to prevent it.

When the operation was wound up, Ron’s boss ordered him to destroy all evidence of the investigation.

But he took home some files — including his Klan membership card with his name on it. After his operation ended, Ron spent time as a narcotics investigator and on special assignment with the Colorado Attorney General’s organised-crime strikeforce. He retired in 2005, writing his memoir in 2014.

Spike Lee’s film opened here yesterday, a year on from the death of Heather Heyer, 32. She was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia, when a white nationalist driver ploughed his car into a crowd of people protesting against a far-right rally.

What the Star of ‘BlacKkKlansman’ Learned from the Real Black Cop Who Infiltrated the KKK

Over his 32 years in law enforcement, Stallworth says, he developed a suspicion of journalists. Once, he gave a television reporter an interview about how Utah’s narcotics bureau was handling street gang shootings. When the piece aired, it was full of embellishments, according to Stallworth. So he called up the reporter, told him he’d personally recorded their interview as well, and blackballed the local TV station for three years.

“So I always ask reporters where they’re going with their story,” the 65-year-old said. “What slant they want to put to it.”

Today, the angle is supposed to be relatively straightforward: Stallworth had arrived at breakfast to discuss a new movie based on his life, “BlacKkKlansman,” alongside the actor who plays him in the film, John David Washington. The Spike Lee joint, which opened to strong reviews and a promising $10.8 million in just 1,500 theaters over the weekend, is based on a 2014 book Stallworth wrote about his investigation into the Ku Klux Klan.

In 1978, serving as the first black detective in the history of the police department in Colorado Springs, Colo., Stallworth noticed a classified ad in the local newspaper seeking enrollment in the white supremacist group. He answered the ad, and a few weeks later received a phone call from a Klan organizer asking why he wanted to join the cause.

Stallworth began spewing racial epithets, saying he hated anyone without “pure white Aryan blood in their veins.” Thus began the detective’s often comical, frequently dangerous investigation into the KKK: A white colleague impersonated him at the Klan’s meetings, while he maintained close phone relationships with Klan organizers, including former Grand Wizard David Duke. (Duke did not respond to an interview request.)


When his book was published four years ago, it was sold only online, and it didn’t generate a lot of business. Nonetheless, Stallworth says, within 30 days of publication, he began receiving inquiries from Hollywood producers interested in adapting his story for the big screen. He had serious conversations with three production companies before he got a call from QC Entertainment, which was behind Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.”

“I was reserved,” he recalled. “People had talked a good game, and then nothing happened. So I said: ‘I don’t want to talk to you on the phone, I want to fly there and look you in the eye.’”

On his own dime, Stallworth flew from El Paso to L.A. for a meeting. He made his reservations clear: He didn’t want his story to be “Hollywood-ized.”

“No screeching car tires when they don’t need to screech the tires,” he said, shaking his head. “No cops running down the street shooting guns. Red lights and sirens going when you’re 10 miles away and you’ve got a clear open road. Dumb. Doesn’t happen.”

In other words: I recognize this is a movie, just don’t get crazy. The QC executives promised Stallworth they’d try to make the story as truthful as possible, but they were curious: Who did Stallworth want to play him?

“Denzel Washington,” he replied. “He’s my favorite actor.”

“Well, he’s a little too old,” Stallworth said the producers replied.

At the time, Stallworth wasn’t aware that Washington had a 34-year-old son, John David, who had recently ended his professional football career and was transitioning to acting on HBO’s “Ballers.”

“It’s just ironic as heck that the role landed in his son’s lap,” Stallworth said, nodding toward the actor. “And I couldn’t be happier. I didn’t get the daddy, I got the son, and the son did a magnificent job. Daddy’s gonna be beaming with pride, if he isn’t already.”

“Oh, he saw it at the Brooklyn premiere and he’s been talking about it still, Ron,” Washington told Stallworth. “He’s overseas selling ‘Equalizer 2’ now, but he’s been calling and checking in, so it’s been nice.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Stallworth said. “You deserve it.”

Washington was given Stallworth’s book months before he received a screenplay, and he immediately wanted to talk with the author. He begged Lee to set up a meeting, but the director wanted the actor to hold off. Still, he was able to sneak in one call to Stallworth, leaving a fawning voicemail expressing how excited he was to be tackling the role.

“He basically said, ‘Mr. Stallworth? This is John David. Well — I, uh, I’m kind of nervous talking to you. I’m gonna play you,’” Stallworth said, imitating an anxious Washington. “He was very hesitant, and there were these pauses and nervous chuckles. ‘I feel a little nervous. I want to make your journey come alive. I’m nervous chuckling because of all you’ve done. I’m a little intimidated.’”

The two would eventually meet at the first table read for the project — Lee had invited Stallworth and his wife, Patsy Terrazas. (Terrazas goes nearly everywhere with her husband, including this interview, where she chimed in occasionally with cheerful anecdotes.) After the cast members had introduced themselves to one another, the director asked Stallworth to stand up and said: “Let’s hear it from the real man.” As he recounted his story in his own words, he passed around his laminated KKK membership card, which he carries in his wallet and likes to show off at any opportunity.

Though Washington said Stallworth “owned” the room, internally, he was struggling to contain how starstruck he was.

“I remember we were sitting there across from John David and Topher Grace (who plays Duke) and we’re like pinching each other, like, ‘Can you believe this?’” Terrazas said.

“This is when ‘Star Wars’ was about to come out, so we’re sitting there looking at Kylo Ren going, ‘This is weird,’” Stallworth added, referring to cast member Adam Driver’s character in the “Star Wars” films. “And after, John David gave me his number. I was surprised, like, ‘Movie star’s giving me his number?’”

“OK, I’m not a movie star,” Washington insisted. “You’re the hero. Ron, do you know what you’ve done? All right? Are you kidding me? Once we got going, I was fine, but initially, it was like meeting a Randall Cunningham.”

Soon, the two had developed an intimate rapport, speaking weekly on the telephone. Washington took pages of notes, asking his real-life counterpart everything from where to stand during a sting operation to what kind of dancer he was during his disco days. The actor even rang Stallworth up before one particularly emotional scene in which the detective is tasked with serving as Duke’s security guard at an event where Klan members are fully outfitted in KKK regalia.


“He called and said, ‘Ron?’ — and there was this urgency in his voice,” Stallworth said. “‘We just finished setting up the banquet scene for tomorrow. How did you do this? I’m in a room with people I know are acting, but they’re wearing Ku Klux Klan clothes. And I’m kind of intimidated. How did you do that?’ I started laughing and said it was a job. I couldn’t be intimidated.”

“I needed to hear that, though,” Washington said. “Me, John David, I couldn’t do what he did. I’d have gotten too emotional. I’d have cracked. I was ignorant before I did my research of a lot of African American police officers out there who are doing their job and doing it the right way. There were no terrorist attacks or violence from the Klan during his investigation. To me, that’s a success.”

Stallworth is still stoic about his investigation, which stopped a handful of KKK cross burnings that could have incited violence in Colorado Springs. And just last weekend, he said, he heard from Duke for the first time in 40 years. He was in a hotel room in New York, doing press for “BlacKkKlansman,” when his phone rang.

“Well, hey, it’s David Duke,” Stallworth said, putting on the white supremacist’s voice. “The minute he said, ‘Ron,’ I knew it was him. And he proceeded to tell me about how he was concerned about how he was portrayed in the movie. He didn’t want to be portrayed in a bad light.”

According to Stallworth, in their conversation, Duke acknowledged that the Colorado Springs investigation did take place, but he kept saying “my recollection is different than yours.” He paused and brought out his cellphone, pressing play on a voicemail that he said was from Duke. In the message, he told Stallworth he’d recorded an episode of his radio show disputing some of the facts in the film.

“I encouraged people a couple of times to buy your book and to read it,” Duke said in the message. “Anyway, just wanted to let you know that.”

“If you didn’t know who that was, you’d be like, ‘That sounds like a nice guy,’” Washington said, reacting to the voicemail.

A handler approached, alerting Stallworth and his wife that they’d miss their flight if they didn’t leave for the airport imminently.

“Well, Mr. Movie Star, I don’t know when I’m going to see you again,” Stallworth said, getting up from his seat.

“Hit me up, man. You already know,” said Washington.

“I can’t do that. You’re a movie star,” Stallworth said with a chuckle. “Love you, son.”

Stallworth Recruited A White Police Officer To Stand In For Him At Klan Meetings

Stallworth&rsquos investigation of the KKK was already gutsy, but actually meeting with the Klan in person would have been suicidal. For that reason, Stallworth brought a partner to stand in for him at meetings. Adam Driver plays a loose adaptation of this officer in BlacKkKlansman . As Stallworth tells it to NPR :

I then went to a white undercover narcotic officer, a good friend of mine, wired the officer up for sound, and sent him into the location and that's how we conducted this investigation over the next eight or nine months or so. Did most of the talking on the phone with these individuals and when it came time for physical contact, the face to face meeting, I would send the white officer in posing as me.

Watch the video: The True Story Behind the Film Black Mass - A Definitive Biography 2013 (June 2022).


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