Ron Stallworth spent seven months under the sheets with the Ku Klux Klan.
He was their ideal recruit: a hard-core police officer who was enthusiastic about the white supremacist message and knew how to deliver it. “I told them I hated niggers, spicks, Jews…anybody that wasn’t pure Aryan white blood like he and I.”
He was a good liar.
Ron Stallworth is black.
It was 1979 and Stallworth was 29 years old, the first black detective on the police force in mostly white Colorado Springs, Colorado. As an investigator, it was his job to keep an eye on subversive activity, so when he saw a newspaper want ad to join the Ku Klux Klan with a PO Box number, he applied, using his own name by mistake, and eventually was accepted.
His first hurdle was convincing his own colleagues on the Colorado Springs police force that the operation was worth their time. Stallworth remembers that he got pushback at first: “They felt like they couldn’t lose investigators to a bunch of nonsense like ‘men running around in sheets.’”
Once the operation was approved by the police chief, Stallworth conducted a seven-month investigation into the Colorado KKK over the phone using his natural voice and diction; but, inserting their ideology. “They’re idiots and they think they’re superior so you just talk like them,” he remembers.
It worked. Stallworth soon found that the closer he got into the Klan circle, the more they wanted out of him as a volunteer. They invited him to meetings. So the narcotics department loaned him a cop (we’ll call him “Chuck”) to be a white “Ron” so that he could show up and further convince them.
During the months that Stallworth was gathering sensitive information, he stopped three cross burnings and uncovered a disturbing underworld of KKK members who had placed themselves in sensitive U.S. military positions. Two of them worked at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) monitoring U.S. airspace for missile attacks. Many of them were military men stationed at nearby Fort Carson. In fact, during one of his conversations, Stallworth discovered a plan to steal automatic weapons at the post. In another, he heard talk among KKK members, who were army personnel and trained in explosives, of wanting to bomb two gay bars downtown.
To this day, Stallworth, who is 62 and has retired with his wife to El Paso, is most proud that while he was a black Klansman, no crosses were ever burned in Colorado Springs.
Consider the tumultuous times.
Though the KKK was winding down from the violence in their opposition of the civil rights movement of the late sixties, they were still causing trouble in 1979. In November, at about the same time Stallworth started his phone calls, five people in North Carolina at an anti-Klan rally were shot to death and seven more were injured by neo-Nazis and KKK members. The next year, during the trial, evidence came to light indicating that the Greensboro police, and perhaps the federal government, knew that there would be violence at the rally but didn’t do much to prevent it.
At the same time, thousands of miles away, Stallworth had become an enigma inside of an enigma, regularly speaking with the Grand Wizard, David Duke, on the phone in a telegenic bubble of trust developed because Duke thought he sounded white. “Once I asked him, ‘How do you know that you’re not speaking with a nigger who’s pretending to be white just to fool you?’ He said, ‘Niggers don’t talk like white folk. We say, ‘How are you,’ but a nigger says, ‘How are-a you.’ It gives them away.”
Then came the moment of truth for Stallworth. The day he remembers “sweating bullets.”
Duke was traveling to Colorado Springs to speak and he had to have protection while he was in town. Amazingly, the black cop who was duping Duke by phone was assigned to be Duke’s bodyguard during the visit. Stallworth was hesitant, but he tells The Daily Beast his boss explained that there was no one else to handle it.
So off Stallworth went, as a random cop assigned to take a bullet for Duke in one role; and as a detective whose real job was investigating the actions of the KKK in another.
The Klan gathering was at a Bonanza Steakhouse where Duke was scheduled to speak to his admirers. The early moments when Stallworth first showed up were tense as he had to face the possibility that Duke may be smart enough to recognize his voice and thus blow his cover.
“I went and introduced myself to David Duke without giving him a name and told him I would do everything I could to protect him even though I didn’t agree with him. We shook hands and I became his bodyguard,” says Stallworth.
What followed was an incredible six hours of cat and mouse as Stallworth was an observer to a rally where he was the only black man in the room assigned to protect people who hated him for the color of his skin.
“Here I was talking to David Duke, the Grand Wizard, on the phone, I was talking to Fred Wilkins, the Lakewood fireman who was the Colorado Grand Dragon or state leader on the phone, and I was talking to the local organizer who was a soldier at Fort Carson on the phone, and all of them were in the same room when I introduced myself to David Duke. And none of these three idiots recognized the fact that I was the voice of who they were talking to on the phone,” marvels Stallworth.
Stallworth’s undercover operation ended when the Klan chose him to be the leader of the local chapter. That’s when his chief said they’d gone far enough and ended the investigation for fear of entrapment laws.
The ex-cop still carries his red KKK membership card signed by Duke—“it’s in my wallet”—and his framed certificate of membership.
And he wrote a book about his experiences called Black Klansman. On August 10, Spike Lee’s movie BlacKkKlansman, which is based on the book, will premiere starring a handful of mega-millennials: Adam Driver plays “Chuck,” Topher Grace is David Duke and Denzel Washington’s son, John David Washington, is Ron Stallworth.
For a guy who always hoped Denzel Washington would play him if his story ever got out, it’s the ultimate compliment.
“He’s a very nice young man. Very polite, very respectful and very balanced and his parents did a wonderful job raising him. Please put that in your article,” says Stallworth.
Duke does not see anything wonderful about the movie portraying his hoodwinking.
He has been sneering about the movie on Twitter: “This whole KKK film is a big lie. Cops infiltrated a Klan chapter. But, if the film is true by depicting them as violent, why no arrests? no trials? no grand juries? Why? They were NOT violent or illegal - Only trying to awaken whites to their coming ethnic cleansing in America,” he tweeted.
Stallworth is not concerned about a “white racist and supremacist” and his tweets. And he’s not afraid of the nuts out there who may want to target him for making them look stupid. “I was a cop. I still have my gun and I can be just as nutty as they want to be if they want to push the button,” he says. “And heaven help them if they do try to come at me.”