When Ron Stallworth became a police cadet at 20 years old, he knew he wanted to be an undercover officer, but little did he know he was to become one of the most successful incognito cops in history.
Ron Stallworth was working as a detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department in 1978 when he saw a classified ad from the Ku Klux Klan — he answered it.
He heard nothing for two weeks, then he got a call through the police department’s undercover operations line from the local KKK organizer. He asked why Stallworth wanted to join.
“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 said. Stallworth – now a decorated veteran officer – was in fact black.
In his memoirs, Black Klansman, Stallworth has shared exactly what happened. His stories have been made into a movie.
Directed and co-written by Spike Lee , BlacKkKlansman tells the extraordinary story of the young detective as he infiltrated the local Klan chapter as the first ever black member – he was even offered headship of the chapter.
Man who infiltrated KKK – Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado, successfully managed to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan and became the head of the local chapter.
Based on Stallworth’s autobiographical account, the film shows how Stallworth, played by John David Washington, negotiated subconscious racism within the police department and scepticism amongst his colleagues to eventually have regular contact with the Klan’s Grand Wizard, David Duke.
Posing as a white man he gained the trust of the chapter’s organiser Ken O’Dell over the phone, by expressing his hate for ethnic minorities.: “I hate blacks. I hate Jews. Mexicans and Irish. Italians and Chinese … and anyone else really that doesn’t have pure white Aryan blood running through their veins,” he lied.
In gaining the trust of Duke, Stallworth developed close ties with a hugely influential member of the Klan. Duke (played in the film by Topher Grace ) was attributed directly with the significant growth in KKK membership throughout the late 1970s. “If any one man can be deemed responsible for the Klan’s resurgence, he is 27-year-old Grand Wizard David Ernest Duke.”
With ongoing clashes between the infamous Ku Klux Klan and the public throughout the second half of the twentieth century, North America was engulfed by the white supremacist group. Colorado Springs, in Colorado was no exception. With the huge expansion in KKK membership in 1978, Police Detective Ron Stallworth seized the opportunity to tackle the issue.
“The gambit was: I obviously, as a black man of African descent, could not meet a white supremacist posing as a KKK member,” Stallworth said.
What happened once inside the Klan?
Having established a relationship with the group, Stallworth enlisted the services of undercover narcotics officer Flip Zimmerman, sending him to meet the Duke as his ‘white face’, creating “a combined Ron Stallworth”. It worked for seven and a half months.
BlacKkKlansman follows the investigation with ensues as the officers obtained information surrounding the chapter’s plans in a crime dramedy, exposing harsh truths of 1970s America and making less than subtle comparisons to the present day.
In an interview with Matt Taylor at Vice, Stallworth explains how he obtained his position within the intelligence department of the force and how he first contacted the KKK chapter via letter before having a telephone conversation with O’Dell where it was revealed that members included soldiers at Fort Carson, some evn had control over nuclear weapons, and gave details of plans for providing aid to poor white families.
Stallworth recalled O’Dell’s belief that all black people ever did “was take advantage of white people by gaming the system – welfare and things like that”, that “Jews control the system and use n****** to do their evil deeds. Nobody ever thought about the poor whites.”
When asked if he felt any sympathy for any of the Klansmen during his work Stallworth didn’t hold back : “No, they were all a**holes … the pleasure that I got is that I was making fools out of them and they didn’t know they were being made fools out of at the time it was happening. I got satisfaction out of that duality. They were a bunch of racist idiots.”
The group didn’t even realise that the ‘Stallworth’ in real life had a different voice to the man on the phone. Stallworth even met Duke in real life when he visited the area to give a talk. Having received death threats he called the police in to protect him – Stallworth was assigned.
“He was very cordial. He shook my hand,” he told NPR. “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.”
What did Stallworth learn from his investigation?
Reflecting upon the investigation later the former detective said the investigation was “one of the most fun” and “most significant investigations I was ever involved in because of the scope and magnitude of how it unfolded … everyone said it couldn’t be done.”
With the current political climate in the United States, Spike Lee’s most recent film has led some to believe that little progress has been made in the past five decades. Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in May and receiving the Grand Prix award, the movie was put forward as a response to the Trump regime.
Ron Stallworth echoed this describing Donald Trump as “that racist piece of s***”. He despairs of the similarities between the current president and the former Grand Wizard of the KKK.
“What David Duke was preaching to me in 1978 about the Klan and what the Klan wanted to do regarding immigration is the same rhetoric, the same position that Donald J. Trump advocates and ran on and is trying to implement,” he said. … “Trump has given white supremacists everywhere permission to come out of the shadows.”
His memoirs – and the movie – seek to demonstrate the potential of everyday normal people citizens to overcome such far-right groups, a potential he wishes to see unlocked in today’s Americans. “If one black man aided by a bevy of good, decent, dedicated and open liberal-minded whites and Jews can succeed in prevailing over a group of white racists, by making them look like the ignorant fools that they are truly are, imagine what a nation of like-minded individuals can accomplish.”
Where to watch BlacKkKlansman
When is BlacKkKlansman released in the UK?
BlacKkKlansman is in UK cinemas from 24 August 2018 .