True Story of Ron Stallworth: The BlaKkKlansman
Back in 1978, black police officer Ron Stallworth saw an ad in the local paper for new members of a Ku Klux Klan chapter. What followed is truly stranger than fiction with Colorado Springs’ first African-American officer joining the KKK undercover and a meeting with leader David Duke. Spike Lee brings Stallworth’s extraordinary story to the screen in BlacKkKlansman — but how closely does the film stay true to real history? We take a look at the True Story of Ron Stallworth: The BlacKkKlansman.
Ron Stallworth was sworn in as a Colorado Springs police officer on his 21st birthday in 1974. He was the first African-American to graduate from the ranks of the Colorado Springs Police Cadet Program. Though he was a regular beat officer, Stallworth was always interested in becoming a member of the undercover narcotics team.
His first undercover assignment came in 1977 when Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael was invited to speak at a black nightclub in Colorado Springs. Being one of the only black officers in the department, Stallworth was asked to go undercover to watch the speech. He duly accepted the role and months after his first assignment, Stallworth became the youngest and first black undercover narcotics detective in Colorado Springs Police Department history.
Ron Stallworth and the Ku Klux Klan
In 1978, Stallworth noticed an ad in the local paper seeking members to start a new chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado Springs. The real-life ad listed a P.O. box (not a phone number as depicted in the film), so Stallworth sent a request for more information via snail mail. Though he provided an unlisted, untraceable phone number and an untraceable address, he did sign the letter with his real name not expecting it to lead to a police investigation.
Two weeks later he received a phone call from a KKK member who wanted to know more about Stallworth. Thinking on his feet, Stallworth posed as a racist white man who ‘hated blacks, Jews, Mexicans, Asians.’ During the conversation, he learned that the new chapter was being founded by a soldier at nearby Fort Carson. The organiser was eager to meet, so Stallworth had to act quickly to officially launch an investigation. Being a black man, he also needed to prepare a proxy.
Infiltrating the KKK
Though in the film Stallworth recruits a Jewish character named Flip Zimmerman to play Ron Stallworth in all face-to-face meetings with the KKK, in real life Stallworth recruited an undercover narcotics officer named Chuck. Stallworth and Chuck arranged to meet the KKK soldier at a local bar and Chuck wired himself to record any conversations.
Having met the KKK member, a full investigation began and lasted around nine months. It wasn’t only Stallworth and Chuck who played the role of ‘KKK Ron’ over during the course of the investigation; on at least one occasion, a different officer ‘played’ Ron over the phone. The duo also had support from their supervisor, Sergeant Trapp, who would often listen into calls.
Meeting David Duke
Incredibly, Stallworth was even in conversation with Head of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke. Duke personally processed Stallworth’s membership application and the two got along surprisingly well. So much so, in his memoir, Stallworth even describes the relationship as a ‘friendship, for lack of a better word.’ According to Stallworth, Duke and he spoke ‘roughly one to two times a week’, saying ‘conversations with David Duke were light, personal discussions about his wife, Chloe, and their children […] when you took away the topic of white supremacy and KKK nonsense from discourse with Duke, he was a very pleasant conversationalist.’
But things would get even more surreal when Duke’s planned visit to Colorado Springs coincided with ‘Ron’s’ KKK induction ceremony. Even more surreal was the fact that the real Stallworth was assigned to be Duke’s personal protection officer for the day. Upon meeting Duke, the real Stallworth shook his hand and told him that he would fulfil his professional duty despite disagreeing with Duke’s ideology.
Though Stallworth did not disguise his voice, Duke had no idea he was being protected by the ‘Ron’ he had been having phone conversations with. During the meeting, Stallworth asked for a picture with Duke and did get himself a polaroid selfie.
Results & Aftermath
The investigation was closed after nine months when a local KKK organiser who was moving out of Colorado Springs suggested that Stallworth succeed him. Stallworth was instructed to destroy all evidence, with the police fearful that if word got out that officers were sworn Klansmen, they would have a PR disaster on their hands.
During the investigation, it was uncovered that two KKK members in Colorado Springs were NORAD personnel with top-security-clearance-level status. Both officers were consequently reassigned.
After the investigation into the Klan was closed, Stallworth kept it a secret until 2006 when he gave an interview to the Deseret News of Salt Lake City, having retired from the Utah Department of Public Safety the year earlier. In 2014, he published a book, Black Klansman, about his experience infiltrating the KKK.
The book was soon bought by QC Entertainment and a film script was soon put together by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee, who also signed on as a co-producer and director. The film was titled BlacKkKlansman. John David Washington was cast as Stallworth, with Adam Driver playing his fictional partner. Laura Harrier landed the role of Patrice Dumas (a fictional love interest), while Topher Grace was cast as David Duke.
BlacKkKlansman is out in cinemas now. Check out the trailer below.
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