The Current

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 he also ran a sting operation that infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan.

Ron Stallworth's investigation is basis for Spike Lee film BlacKkKlansman

Ron Stallworth replied to a newspaper advertisement seeking new members for the Ku Klux Klan. (Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

Read story transcript

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.

Director Spike Lee won the Grand Prix award for BlackKklansman at the Cannes International Film Festival. (Arthur Mola/Invision/AP, File)

About a week or two later, I got a phone call from a gentleman, who described himself as Ken O'Dell, 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'Dell asked how he would know me at this meeting, I described basically Chuck.

Stallworth with John David Washington, who plays him in BlaKkKlansman. (Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

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."

Stallworth said he spoke with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke multiple times. (Max Becherer/Associated Press)

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.


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