True Spies: How A Black Cop Infiltrated the KKK’s Secret Society


Listen to Ron Stallworth's story | The Real Black Klansman

When you think about spies, do you think about disguises and double identities? Well, Ron Stallworth took the concept to a whole new level when the black police sergeant infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan posing as a white supremacist.

That’s right, Ron’s surreal story began in 1978 when he spotted a classified ad recruiting members for the Colorado Springs KKK.

“I wrote a letter to the P.O. box pretending to be white,” Ron told SPYSCAPE’s True Spies podcast. “Then I signed my real name instead of my undercover name, which was a mistake… put it in the mail, and forgot about it.”

Ron didn’t imagine the letter would connect him to Grand Wizard David Duke, the preeminent Klan leader, but sometimes life is stranger than fiction. Ron was about to have fun with this twist of fate.


John David Washington stars in BlacKkKlansman
John David Washington played Stallworth in Spike Lee’s Oscar-winning BlacKkKlansman (2018)


The real BlacKkKlansman

Ron’s story is grounded in the American Civil Rights movement and the ‘60s. The Klan - known for their pointy white hoods and extreme views - believes in a racial hierarchy that elevates Americans of white European descent and targets ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans like Ron Stallworth. 

How A Black Cop Infiltrated the KKK’s Secret Society

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Listen to Ron Stallworth's story | The Real Black Klansman

When you think about spies, do you think about disguises and double identities? Well, Ron Stallworth took the concept to a whole new level when the black police sergeant infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan posing as a white supremacist.

That’s right, Ron’s surreal story began in 1978 when he spotted a classified ad recruiting members for the Colorado Springs KKK.

“I wrote a letter to the P.O. box pretending to be white,” Ron told SPYSCAPE’s True Spies podcast. “Then I signed my real name instead of my undercover name, which was a mistake… put it in the mail, and forgot about it.”

Ron didn’t imagine the letter would connect him to Grand Wizard David Duke, the preeminent Klan leader, but sometimes life is stranger than fiction. Ron was about to have fun with this twist of fate.


John David Washington stars in BlacKkKlansman
John David Washington played Stallworth in Spike Lee’s Oscar-winning BlacKkKlansman (2018)


The real BlacKkKlansman

Ron’s story is grounded in the American Civil Rights movement and the ‘60s. The Klan - known for their pointy white hoods and extreme views - believes in a racial hierarchy that elevates Americans of white European descent and targets ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans like Ron Stallworth. 

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Ron grew up in El Paso, Texas, however, far from the race riots in Georgia and Alabama, and a long way from David Duke’s base in Louisiana. Ron’s family moved west to Colorado in 1972 and the 19-year-old accepted the first well-paid job he found. “I rode a three-wheeled motorcycle around town issuing parking tickets.”

Ron graduated to a police cruiser but it wasn’t an easy ride. As the only black police cop in Colorado Springs, he endured routine racial abuse - and that was before he left the precinct. Ron kept his mouth shut for 18 months however, and passed his probation.

“The minimum wage in America at that time was $1.60-an-hour,” Ron said. “As a newly hired police cadet, I was making $5.25.”

The Real Black Klansman podcast on True Spies


Life undercover

Ron had his eye on an undercover job, mainly so he could ditch his uniform. His first assignment was monitoring the Black Panthers’ Stokely Carmichael who was speaking at a nightclub nearby.

“I was giving the Black power sign, the raised fist. I was saying: ‘Right on brother.’ Because what he was saying made a lot of sense to me. And then it dawned on me: ‘You're operating in an adversarial capacity here.’” Ron lowered his fist.

Ron Stallworth as a Colorado Springs police officer

Ron was also keeping an eye on the newspapers and classified sections, which is how he stumbled on the KKK advert. A week after posting his letter in 1978, the phone rang in the police station. The president of the local KKK chapter wanted to speak to Ron. 

That's when I realized I had signed my real name to that letter,” Ron told True Spies. “I immediately had to start operating as an undercover cop on the phone and pretending to be something that I wasn't, something that I never imagined I ever would be. And that's a white person, a white racist, a white supremacist.” 

The Grand Wizard

The KKK wanted a face-to-face meeting so the police wired up a different officer, a white undercover agent named Chuck, who pretended to be Ron Stallworth.

When Ron’s KKK membership card still hadn’t arrived two weeks later, the police thought they’d been rumbled. That’s when Ron decided to up the ante and put in a direct call to David Duke, the so-called ‘Grand Wizard’ of the secret society. 

“He said he would personally process my application,” Ron recalled.

While he was on a roll, Ron couldn’t resist asking another question: 'Mr. Duke, aren't you afraid of some smart-alec n****** calling you up pretending to be white?'”


Ron Stallworth
Ron Stallworth with his KKK membership


Ron enjoyed duping the Grand Wizard during several more phone calls until 1979 when Colorado Springs announced that David Duke was coming to town. The police chief put Ron in charge of his security. 

But what if the KKK supremo recognized Ron’s voice? The entire investigation was now in jeopardy. Nonetheless, the only black officer in Colorado Springs agreed to protect the most racist man in America. 

“I told [David Duke]: ‘I don't agree with your philosophy or political ideology… But I am a professional and I would do everything I can to keep you alive and safe.’ We shook hands.”

Ron was a pro but he could still have a laugh at the Grand Wizard’s expense. After shaking hands, Ron asked for a photo. With David Duke on his right, and the KKK ‘Grand Dragon’ of Colorado on his left, Ron smiled. Fellow undercover officer Chuck snapped a Polaroid photo just as Ron lifted his arms around the men.


“David Duke bolted away from me and tried to grab the camera out of Chuck’s hand as the picture was developing. And I grabbed it first and told David Duke if he tried to grab it out of my hand - and if he touched me - I would arrest him for assault on a police officer, and that was worth about five years in prison,” Ron recalled. “And he glared at me in the most hateful manner.”

At that moment, Ron was David Duke’s worst nightmare: an African American with a badge and all the power.
 

KKK president?

Ron’s cover was so believable the Colorado Springs chapter asked if he’d like to become their local leader. That’s when the police chief shut Ron down. “He was worried we had gone too far and we were bordering on what’s known in American law as ‘entrapment’,'' Ron said.

The game was up but they’d made inroads. The team had identified Klansmen in top-security clearance assignments and linked the KKK to the Nazi Party, building out the national picture of radical right-wing networks.


Spike Lee and Ron Stallworth
Director Spike Lee (left) with Ron Stallworth

It wasn’t until decades later - after Ron's cover was blown and he retired - that his story made the news and Hollywood director Spike Lee began circling. The screenplay was eventually adapted from Ron’s memoir and an investigation casebook he ‘forgot’ to destroy.

As for his KKK membership, Ron still carries a wallet-sized red card emblazoned with a chilling black and white cross. It’s a memento of his career but there’s another reason he keeps it close.

“If I'm ever in a fatal car crash or some poor cop comes upon my mangled black body, he's going to go through my personal effects, and he's going to find this KKK card. It's going to freak him the hell out!”

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