How A Black Cop Actually Infiltrated The KKK In The '70s, According To Ron Stallworth Himself

One can be forgiven for thinking the “true story” behind BlacKkKlansman, the 2018 Spike Lee film, was a work of fiction. The film follows a Black police officer as he infiltrates and investigates the KKK in the late ‘70s. Though it sounds like an outlandish premise, that’s exactly what Colorado Springs Police Department detective Ron Stallworth did. Stallworth is the film’s protagonist, and he’s played by John David Washington.

The movie, which is based on a book written by Stallworth, tells his story with relative accuracy – for Hollywood, that is. While the film does take some notable deviations from reality, they’re mostly for plot-related reasons and they do nothing to diminish the undeniable truth: Detective Stallworth’s investigation remains one of the most ironically vengeful acts of deception in modern history, and a story more than worthy of a little mythologizing.

Photo: BlacKkKlansman/Focus Features

  • Stallworth Was A Police Pioneer Even Before He Infiltrated The KKK

    Stallworth is the subject of BlacKkKlansman and the author of the book Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime, and those two titles serve as a fair summation of Stallworth’s story.

    However, Stallworth was a noteworthy individual long before that investigation of a lifetime occurred. When he joined the Colorado Springs Police Department as an officer in 1974, he was the first African American to graduate from the Police Cadet Program. He took on a number of undercover assignments and rose to the rank of detective in the years before he began his investigation into the Klu Klux Klan in 1978.

  • The Whole Thing Started With A KKK Advertisement In The Newspaper

    The film BlacKkKlansman depicts Stallworth’s investigation as beginning with a phone call, but according to an interview with Business Insider, it actually started with a newspaper ad. The following is Stallworth's response to the advertisement:

    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.


  • Stallworth Aced The Phone Interview For KKK Membership

    That fateful phone call came from Ken O’Dell, the local chapter president of Klu Klux Klan. In an impromptu interview, Stallworth recalls to NPR:

    I told him that I was a white man, that I hated Blacks, Jews, Mexicans, Asians; that I thought the white man had not gotten a fair deal in this country; I was really upset because my sister had dated a Black guy and it offended me that his Black hands had touched her white body; and as a result, I wanted to join the group and do what I could to put a stop to all of this nonsense.

    He told me that I was the exact kind of person that they were looking for, and he was very enthusiastic about meeting with me.

    Without necessarily meaning to, Stallworth had begun his infiltration of the KKK.

  • Stallworth Recruited A White Police Officer To Stand In For Him At Klan Meetings

    Stallworth’s investigation of the KKK was already gutsy, but actually meeting with the Klan in person would have been suicidal. For that reason, Stallworth brought a partner to stand in for him at meetings. Adam Driver plays a loose adaptation of this officer in BlacKkKlansman. As Stallworth tells it to NPR:

    I then went to a white undercover narcotic officer, a good friend of mine, wired the officer up for sound, and sent him into the location; and that's how we conducted this investigation over the next eight or nine months or so. Did most of the talking on the phone with these individuals; and when it came time for physical contact, the face to face meeting, I would send the white officer in posing as me.

  • The Undercover Operation Prevented Multiple Cross-Burnings

    While Stallworth and his partner weren’t able to bring down the KKK, their investigation did have some major impacts, including a serious reduction in hate crimes. Stallworth recounted some of these accomplishments, recalling in an interview with Time:

    During ... the seven-and-a-half months of my undercover investigation there were no crosses burned; we prevented three of them.

    I was invited to participate in two of them. I’d get details from Ken O’Dell, leader of the Colorado Springs Klan chapter – where they were going to go, how many [people were attending], what they would be driving. Then I’d notify my dispatcher and extra [police] cars were directed over to that area. We didn’t have cell phones, so I’d find out 24 hours later that a cross-burning had been canceled because they [the Klansmen] saw all of these police cars present, and they thought it was too risky.

    It may sound like a small victory, but the population of Colorado Springs probably greatly appreciated not having to see such symbols of hatred in their community for a while.

  • The Operation Also Uncovered High-Ranking KKK Members At NORAD

    By far the most significant finding of Stallworth’s investigation was just how many members of the KKK also belonged to the US Armed Forces. Specifically, the investigation turned up two shockingly high-ranking officials in a rather important branch of the military. As Stallworth tells it to NPR:

    When I found out about the two people at NORAD, I found it interesting. I didn't realize that there were anybody at NORAD. To this day, I don't know which two in my files were the NORAD personnel. The military did not identify them to me. They just, with my permission, they checked my files and looked at my list of Klansmen that I had identified and the military people – they said that two of them were attached to NORAD in sensitive positions...

    And then I was told that within 24 hours, these two men would be stationed at the farthest most northern base that the US military had, that the military was not going to tolerate them being in the positions they were in. And when I asked what position they were in, all I was told was that they're in very sensitive positions, and specifically I was told, you might say they had their fingers on nuclear triggers; and that's what was expressed to me.