Spike Lee’s new movie “BlacKkKlansman” chronicles the true story of an African American police detective named Ron Stallworth, who, in 1978, launched an investigation into the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado Springs, Colorado. By speaking with KKK members over the phone, Stallworth established himself as a viable candidate for membership. He then coordinated with a white detective who assumed his identity when he needed to meet the Klan members in person.
We spoke to the real Ron Stallworth, played in the movie by actor J.D. Washington (son of Denzel), and he told us the amazing story of the investigation and its results. The movie arrives in theaters on the one-year anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where one woman lost her life during a protest. Lee incorporates imagery from the rally in the film. Following is a transcript of the video.
WARNING: This video contains graphic language.
Graham Flanagan: So you said you have the card in your wallet.
Ron Stallworth: I do.
Flanagan: Can I see that?
[This man infiltrated the KKK. His story inspired the movie “BlacKkKlansman.”]
Stallworth: I’m Sergeant Ron Stallworth, retired. When I was the detective at the Colorado Springs Police Department, in 1978, I launched an investigation into the Ku Klux Klan, a chapter that was forming and trying to expand, in my city. I launched it based on seeing a want ad in the classified section of the newspaper, and there was a P.O. Box number. I wrote a note, a letter if you will, to that P.O. Box. I basically said, “I hate n******, s****, c*****, J***, J***, and anybody else who isn’t pure Aryan White like me.”
And, I wanted to join something that would allow me to direct my attention towards that. About a week, two weeks later, I get a phone call in my office. The voice on the end of the phone said, “Hi, this is Ken O’Dell, I’m the local chapter president of the Colorado Springs Ku Klux Klan.” His response to me was, “You’re just the kinda guy we’re looking for, when can we meet?” That’s when I said, “Oh hell, what do I do now?”
I immediately formulated a strategy and it was simply to get a white officer, posing as me, to go meet this guy. Chuck, that’s not his real name, I knew Chuck well, he was a good undercover officer, and so I chose him. When I set off to do this, it was simply to gather information on the Klan, who they are, what they are, where they are, how many they are, and take it from there. Chuck, his lieutenant said, “This’ll never work because Chuck will walk into the meeting and they’ll immediately recognize from his voice that he’s not black.”
I said to the lieutenant, “What does a black man sound like?” And then he said, “You know, shucking and jiving, and saying mother blank-blank.” I said, ” I can shuck and jive if I have to, but B, I can speak correct English when I need to.”
When I needed a physical body to attend a Klan meeting, I would go tell him, we need you for this. Most of these guys carry guns, and Chuck would go into the situation knowing that these people were armed and they’re unpredictable.
David Duke was the National Director/Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. I called him up one day to find out where my membership card was, ’cause you were supposed to get it within two weeks of applying. On this particular day, David Duke happened to be there, picked the phone up. He told me that there’d been an administrative snafu, and he personally would process the membership and send my card to me. I actually have the card in my wallet. I’ve carried that card in my wallet since I got it in January of 1979, and I also have a certificate of membership to the Ku Klux Klan, both documents signed, prepared and signed by David Duke.
During the seven and a half months of the undercover phase, the results were, we prevented three cross burnings. Cross burning is a domestic act of terrorism, it’s been classified as such. So, we prevented three of those in Colorado Springs, no one ever had to wake up and be terrorized seeing a burning cross in the distance.
We also learned of two military personnel working at North American Air Defense Command, NORAD, who had top security clearance to man the console that monitored the North American airspace. We uncovered two members of the Klan who had that job. I was invited into NORAD, met the Deputy Commander, and based on the information I provided to him, he contacted the Pentagon, talked to some General there, and that General ordered him to order those two men off NORAD and to reassign them. I was told that they were going to, quote, unquote, the North Pole.
They nominated Chuck/me to become the local chapter president. When I told my Chief of Police this latest development, he said, “End the investigation now.” He said, “It’s gone far enough.”
I was told to have no further contact with the Klan, don’t answer the phone, don’t go to any more meetings. He also ordered me to destroy the file. I have two notebooks, about oh, three inches thick maybe. When my Sergeant wasn’t looking, I took the notebooks, put ’em under my arm, walked out to my car and took ’em home.
[Stallworth didn’t speak about the investigation until 2006. His book “Black Klansman” was published in 2014.]
Groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis, Skinheads, Alt-Right, call ’em what you will, they’re basically all the same. We need to be aware of who they are, what they are, why they are, and we need to address these issues when they come up. Too many people are afraid to talk about the issue of race. We should be willing to address it, and more importantly, when it rears its ugly head we should be willing to take a stand and try to stomp it out, whatever the action may be at a particular time.