Caption

How a black police detective infiltrated and stopped the Ku Klux Klan

New Spike Lee movie “BlacKkKlansman” a reflection of the times

Ron Stallworth doesn’t suffer fools lightly. 

Ask him and he will tell you. 

“What I am, is what you get. My wife will tell me all the time, ‘you, probably shouldn’t say that,” Stallworth said. “But the fact of the matter is, when you get under my dander, I have to express myself. As a black man in America, I have lived the truth.” 

The name Ron Stallworth, particularly here in Atlanta, might not ring many bells. But it is about to. 

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Spike Lee has adapted Stallworth’s 2014 memoir, “Black Klansman,” into a feature film, “BlacKkKlansman,” which will be released on Aug. 10. 

The film, starring Morehouse College graduate John David Washington as Stallworth, is already getting rave reviews and won the Grand Prix at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. 

Ron Stallworth holds his Ku Klux Klan membership card. In 1979, Stallworth was a Colorado Springs police detective who infiltrated the organization. (Courtesy of Ron Stallworth)

You can’t make this stuff up

“Spike did a masterful job of telling my story and weaving the historical connections between the Confederacy, Charlottesville, David Duke and Donald Trump,” Stallworth said. “I hope this movie ignites conversation and stimulates discussion and dialogue. There was powerful statement in his rendition of what I wrote.” 

But there is also power in what Stallworth wrote. 

The story is almost improbable. 

How could a black police officer, with a mountain of an afro, spend nine months fooling the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke into thinking he was white?

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In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Washington -- the son of Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington and his actress wife, Pauletta -- said after reading the book, he had to call Spike Lee to again verify that the story was true. 

“I was blown away by it. I can’t believe this really happened,” Washington said. “I looked at some of Ron’s interviews, but you know what brought it home for us? When he showed us the Ku Klux Klan membership card. You can’t make this stuff up. This is history. Come check out some good old fashioned American hate.” 

"Black Klansman," Ron Stallworth's memoir about infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan, has been adapted into a film by Spike Lee called "BlackkKlansman."

Fooling Duke

Stallworth’s memoir tells the story of how in 1972 he became the first black officer on the Colorado Springs Police Department and how he went on to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan in 1978 and helped squelch racial violence. 

It was the late 1970s. No internet. No smart phones or Google. People depended on writing letters and landlines to communicate. Stallworth was first alerted to the Klan’s activities through the newspaper – they placed an ad looking for new members.

Stallworth responded, telling the local leader that he hated black people and believed in white purity. 

“I added, ‘my sister is dating a [n-word] and every time he puts his filthy black hands on her pure white body I get disgusted and sick to my stomach,” Stallworth said. “Like I wrote in the book, they weren’t the brightest bulbs in the socket.”

No one ever figured out who he was or that he was black. When “Ron Stallworth,” (he used his real name), needed to be present with the Klan, the department sent a white undercover narcotics agent in his stead. 

“A lot of people said I tried to speak white on the phone. That is farthest thing from the truth and offensive,” Stallworth said. “There was no attempt to disguise my voice. I talked to them as Ron Stallworth. There were several occasions when they should have realized the truth, but didn’t.” 

When his application to officially join the Klan was delayed, Stallworth picked up the phone and called David Duke, the Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, himself. 

He got his red membership card in the mail two weeks later. 

Ron Stallworth was a Colorado Springs police detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in 1979. His story is the subject of the book "Black Klansman," which is now a film directed by Spike Lee.

“I talked to David maybe once or twice a week,” Stallworth said. “Often just shooting the breeze. About his wife and politics. About how he was raising his son to be little Klansmen. David was a nice conversationalist, but the minute the subject of race came up, that is when the monster came out.” 

Duke has responded on Twitter that Stallworth was lying. 

Lecia Brooks, outreach director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which acted as a consultant on hate groups for the film, said while Stallworth’s story and the apparent ineptitude of the KKK seems improbable, it is “very significant and timely.”

“Most importantly, it tells the story about the Klan in Colorado and shows that it did not just exist in the Deep South,” Brooks said. “It showed their power and their reach and how it weaved into political life. People need to know that. That is how hate groups operate.”

From Colorado Springs to Charleston to Charlottesville

As is his want, Spike Lee has a knack for dropping movies that speak of the times. His masterpiece, “Do The Right Thing,” was a response to heightened racial tensions in New York City. 

“Malcolm X,” opened with the 1991 beating of Rodney King by four Los Angeles cops over the slain leader’s narration: “We don’t see an American dream. We’ve experienced an American nightmare.”

This is the KKK membership certificate issued in 1979 to Ron Stallworth, the black Colorado Springs police detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. The certificate is signed by David Duke. (Courtesy of Ron Stallworth)

“Sometimes hatred is fueled through insecurity,” said Washington, who made his theatrical debut in “Malcolm X,” which starred his father Denzel Washington. “(BlacKkKlansman) is a period piece, but it has a very contemporary feel to it. There is a lot to take away from this film. The language of hate seems to be the same as it was in the ‘70s.” 

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“BlacKkKlansman,” comes out in the era of Donald Trump and against a resurgent backdrop of racially-motivated incidents and attacks, including the 2015 Charleston church massacre carried out by a 21-year-old white supremacist and the 2017 murder of Heather Heyer, who was killed in Charlottesville, Va., when a car rammed into a crowd of protesters fighting for the removal of Confederate statutes.

Then-president Barack Obama attended the funerals of the nine black Charleston victims and tearfully sang “Amazing Grace,” at their services. In response to Heyer’s death in Charlottesville, Trump said: "I think there's blame on both sides. But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”

“Not much has changed since I was dealing with David Duke,” Stallworth said. “We have gone from an honorable, decent, intelligent man in Barack Obama, to this racist clown that we have now, who doesn’t deserve to sit in that seat. The fact that we went from these extremes says a lot about America. The very fact that they chose an avowed racist and put him in the White House is disgusting.”

Ron Stallworth says that when his application to join the Ku Klux Klan in 1979 was delayed, he called David Duke (seen here in 2016) personally to get his membership approved. Stallworth says that the two talked on the phone on a weekly basis but Duke denies this. (Max Becherer)

Stallworth Brothers

When his investigation into the Klan abruptly ended, Stallworth disappeared into his police work and moved on to other cases. 

He stayed in Colorado for eight years then bounced around Arizona, Wyoming and Utah, before moving to his hometown of El Paso to retire and marry his new wife Patsy. 

His days are now mostly filled with media interviews and book signings. He and Patsy will walk the red carpets in both the Brooklyn and Los Angeles premieres of the film. 

Stallworth was asked in 2014, when the rights of the book were optioned, who he would want to play him in a movie. 

He said two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington. 

Now he can’t stop gushing over John David Washington. 

“Throughout my time dealing with John David, he was very polite, respectful, soft-spoken and humble,” Stallworth said. “His parents raised him right and I am proud to say that he is a Stallworth Brother.”

Adam Driver and John David Washington star in Spike Lee’s “BlackkKlansman.” (Entertainment Weekly)

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