True Spies Episode 18: The Real Black Klansman
NARRATOR: Welcome to True Spies. Week by week, mission by mission, you’ll hear the true stories behind the world’s greatest espionage operations. You’ll meet the people who navigate this secret world. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would you do in their position?
This is True Spies Episode 18: The Real Black Klansman.
RON STALLWORTH: 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, white supremacist.
NARRATOR: When we think about spies, we often think about moles, double identities… Pretending to be someone you’re not in order to gather valuable information about an enemy. But this story takes deception, duplicity, and infiltration to a whole new level. Let's meet our protagonist.
RON STALLWORTH: My name is Ron Stallworth. I'm a retired sergeant - the Utah Department of Public Safety - and the number-one, New York bestselling author of the book BlacKkKlansman, which won an Academy Award for 2019 for Best Adapted Screenplay.
NARRATOR: That’s right, this story is Oscar award-winning stuff. It’s truly stranger than fiction.
RON STALLWORTH: I wasn’t expecting anything when I started this investigation. I just ran where the investigation took me.
NARRATOR: But first, let's start by understanding the target of this investigation. The Ku Klux Klan, one of America's most notorious hate groups, also known as the KKK or simply the Klan. Recognizable for their distinctive outfits, pointy white hoods, loose white robes, the Ku Klux Klan is an extremist, right-wing secret society. They believe in a racial hierarchy that puts Americans of white European descent at the top and targets ethnic minorities - particularly African Americans like Ron Stallworth. Oh, and they also hate left-wing political activists, anyone who identifies with the LGBTQ community, atheists, and, until recently, Catholics. So, an inclusive bunch. Because membership is secret, it's always been difficult to estimate just how big the Klan really is but today, membership numbers are estimated between 3,000 and 6,000. The KKK emerged in the 1860s in the Southern States and consisted of a number of subgroups known as chapters. The organization follows an elaborate hierarchy and there is specific and very strange Klan lingo to describe the various departments and leaders. There are Realms, Empires, and Dominions led by Grand Cyclops, Nighthawks, Wizards, and Dragons. It all sounds so childishly innocent, doesn’t it? Until you understand their modus operandi. The Klan has gone through different manifestations, but since the 1950s, the group has focussed on opposing the Civil Rights movement, deploying violent tactics to terrorize and suppress activists. And this is where Ron Stallworth comes into the story. He’s an African American man born in 1953.
RON STALLWORTH: Growing up during the civil rights movement was a very interesting time where I grew up, in El Paso, Texas. We were isolated from the harsh events that were happening around the country, in the Deep South. Texas is a southern state and El Paso was a southern city. But everything that was happening in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, those were foreign to us here in Texas, in El Paso, because we didn't have this type of activity going on here. It was relatively calm, all things considered.
NARRATOR: Ron’s hometown was set away from the epicenter of the civil rights protests and the violent suppression of the Black community in the Deep South. But that didn’t mean Ron’s life would be untouched by the racial conflict that was happening in the States. In fact, he’s soon to be thrown in the deep end. It all starts with a change of scene.
RON STALLWORTH: My mother went to visit her sister who was a military wife. Her husband was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado. And my mother came back in the summer of ‘72 after a two-week visit and said: “We're moving to Colorado Springs.” And a month later, that's where we were.
NARRATOR: This move seemed innocuous enough. Colorado was further north than Texas and seemed set apart from the troubles in the south. Little did Ron know, this move would set him on a path to becoming extraordinarily involved in the tense race relations that were still blazing in 1970s America. But at this point, Ron has no idea. It’s 1972. Ron is 19 and, like most 19-year-olds, life is about music and socializing.
RON STALLWORTH: I liked going to the discos. I liked going to house parties when I could. I liked having fun, but also I had a serious side to me.
NARRATOR: And Ron had career ambitions to become a high school PE teacher. But first, he needed to get a college education, which meant he needed to save, which meant he accepted the first well-paid job that came his way.
RON STALLWORTH: Got a job at the age of 19 with the Colorado Springs Police Department.
NARRATOR: It all started with a training program.
RON STALLWORTH: Well, the police cadet program was designed for high school graduates between 17 and 19 years of age who wanted to become police officers. Cadets perform civilian-support jobs around the department. I rode a three-wheeled motorcycle around town issuing parking tickets at one point in time. During the cadet experience, you went through the Police Academy. And when you turn 21, you switch uniforms from brown to blue. You switched badges, cadet to patrolmen, and you started your field-training program with an experienced officer. And after that, when they felt you were ready, you were given your own patrol car in your own district to patrol.
NARRATOR: The career path that Ron now finds himself on is not going to be easy. It's 1972 in America, less than 10 years since the Civil Rights Act outlawed racial segregation. Prejudice against African Americans is pervasive, particularly in the institutions of law enforcement, and Ron’s family are understandably concerned.
RON STALLWORTH: My mother often complained about how worried she was about me, and what I would be doing on the job and everything. I wasn't concerned. I had my own life to live and could not have lived my life based on other people's dictats for me. The bottom line is - people's opinion for what was, or was not, in my best interest did not concern me. I made the choices for myself based on my opinion. And I wasn't concerned with what anyone else, including my mother, thought about becoming a cop. I wanted to be a cop. It was my life to live, not hers.
NARRATOR: Ron didn’t let anyone’s opinions or ideas get in his way, which would come in handy because he was about to be exposed to some pretty nasty ones…
RON STALLWORTH: I was destined to become the only Black employee of the department at that time, at the age of 19. For about a year and a half, I had to take some of the verbal abuse that was coming out of the mouths of officers and not respond. They'd call me n***** or they'd make n***** jokes.
NARRATOR: So why did he stick it out?
RON STALLWORTH: I had a good job. The minimum wage in America at that time was $1.60-an-hour. As a newly hired police cadet, I was making $5.25. That was motivation enough to keep your mouth shut and maintain your job until you cleared probation.
NARRATOR: Initially, Ron was there for the money and the job stability, but soon he would find his calling within the profession.
RON STALLWORTH: I knew I wanted to go undercover the very first time I saw undercover cops come into the identification Bureau and request a criminal record on someone they were investigating. I liked the look. They were what we refer to as ‘hippies’. Cause they were all long hair, long beards, sneakers, or mountain climbing boots, and jeans - that type of stuff. And they were cops, they were working cops. And I am not a lover of uniforms. I don't like uniforms. I never have. And the fact that these guys were cops and not wearing uniforms, looking the way they did, that appealed to me.
NARRATOR: Ron is on the path to something good. He can earn a good salary and ditch the uniform. It’s a win-win. Undercover work is ticking all his boxes and so he goes for it. Going undercover means assuming new identities, and that means choosing a new name or two. Ever thought about having another identity? What would you choose for your alias? Who would you be?
RON STALLWORTH: I had two different undercover names at the time. One was Freddie Washington - which was a character on the popular comedy show Welcome Back Kotter - and my second undercover name was Dwight Jefferson. When I was in sixth grade, I was a sprinter, and Dwight Jefferson was a guy who had beat me in the qualifying trials for the city championships. So I was a little pissed off at him over the years and I used his name undercover.
NARRATOR: What a way to get your own back on a rival. So Ron is ready to go. Now it’s time for his first assignment.
RON STALLWORTH: The sergeant in narcotics asked me to go undercover and monitor Stokely Carmichael speaking at a Black nightclub. Stokely Carmichael was one of the leaders of the Black Panther Party and he was giving a speech. And the department wanted someone in the club to monitor his speech, to gauge audience reaction, and see what, if anything, the department should do to counter Stokely's words. So I went in to monitor Stokely. I was operating in an undercover capacity in a hostile crowd who was definitely on Stokely's side. That was my first undercover assignment.
NARRATOR: And it would be a challenging one. Ron would get his first taste of the inner conflict that goes with the job. How would you play that role and not become that role? How do you convince without being convinced?
RON STALLWORTH: Stokely was a very fiery speaker. He's a charismatic speaker. He had the ability to move an audience with the power of his words. Yeah. He was saying that it's a white power structure in America that was vehemently against Black people and that we needed to rise up and do something about it. That all made sense to me, even though I was working for that white power structure as a police officer. While I was listening to Stokely in this undercover capacity, I found myself drawn to his words and the truth behind what he was saying. And at one point, 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. You're not in concert with him. You should be working against what he is saying.” And I stopped raising my fist and I kept quiet, but I still recognize that what he's saying makes sense. I had to recognize and not get caught up in his charisma momentarily. He held me in the palm of his hand, but it all made sense.
NARRATOR: Ron was drawn in by the words and ideas of the man he’d been asked to report on. Where did his loyalties lie? Put yourself in Ron's position. You're a young, Black officer being asked to spy on people who are fighting to make your world a fairer place. Where do your loyalties lie? With the institution you work for, or with your personal convictions? What would you do?
RON STALLWORTH: That's the duality of Black officers and law enforcement. We are too Black for the community that we serve, the white community that we serve, but we're too blue, as in the police uniform. We're too blue for the Black community that we are a part of.
NARRATOR: From the start of his career in the police, Ron is playing a dual role. In a strange way, that sets him up well for undercover work.
RON STALLWORTH: So we're caught in a virtual no man's land because of our profession and our race.
NARRATOR: Once Stokely had finished his rousing speech, Ron approached him and asked him to clarify a few things, and that’s when he heard some of Carmichael's more extreme views.
RON STALLWORTH: He was advocating that Black people arm themselves and be prepared for the war that was going to happen between whites and Blacks. And that when the time came, we would have to kill white. And I asked him if he truly believed that he whispered in my ear: “Get ready brother. Cause we're going to have to kill whitey. Arm yourself, cause we're going to have to kill whitey.”
NARRATOR: Ron completes his first mission. He writes a detailed report on Stokely Carmichael’s political ideology, and the incitement of violence against white people. It was shocking stuff, but at that point, Ron hadn't met the KKK.
RON STALLWORTH: The KKK investigation didn't happen until about three years later, 1978.
NARRATOR: To this day, the KKK targeted immigrants, homosexuals, people with leftist political views, and people of the Jewish faith. In fact, the only thing they’re indiscriminate about is who they hate. It seems they hate most people. And most of all, they hate African Americans. Ron was about to embark on one of the most significant investigations of his career. The next few months would involve one of the most complex and unbelievable operations the Colorado Springs Police Department had ever known. But all started off in the most pedestrian way, with Ron, sitting in his office, reading through the newspaper.
RON STALLWORTH: And I was scanning the classified pages, which we did every day. It was a routine thing that we did to see what, if anything, was in the newspapers that might be of interest to us. I came across this ad that said: Ku Klux Klan for information. And then there was a PO Box. So I wrote a letter to the PO Box pretending to be white, pretending to hate Blacks and other minorities. And I used all the words of hate that they use to communicate. And I basically said that I wanted to do something to fix this wrong that was being done to white people. Then I signed my real name instead of my undercover name, which was a mistake on my part, but I signed my real name, Ron Stallworth, to the letter, put it in the mail, and forgot about it.
NARRATOR: This was all just part of the weekly routine in Ron’s job, making inquiries, requesting reading materials… maybe a pamphlet or two, just fishing for a bit of information. Ron had no idea that things were about to kick off.
RON STALLWORTH: About a week later, the phone in my office rang ‘cause I did put the undercover phone line [in]. In 1978, the phones were untraceable and I got a call back from the president of the local chapter of the KKK.
NARRATOR: They’ve taken the bait. And on the other end of the telephone line is a man of hate, and top on his list of hated people is YOU. What would you do? Could you keep calm? Think fast? Act normal? Breathe. Stay cool. But wait…
RON STALLWORTH: He asked to speak to Ron Stallworth.
NARRATOR: He knows your name, not your undercover name, your real name.
RON STALLWORTH: To say I was surprised would be an understatement. That's when I realized I had signed my real name to that letter.
NARRATOR: You’ve screwed up. How are you going to handle this one? We're all human and we do make mistakes when we work undercover. But part of working undercover is recovering from the mistakes that you may make.
RON STALLWORTH: 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.
NARRATOR: This is a bold move for Ron, to assume a role he knows he could never convincingly play in a face-to-face context. But Ron’s on the phone. The man at the other end of the line can’t see him, so why not? So Ron wings it and starts to get to know his enemy.
RON STALLWORTH: Ken was the chapter president in Colorado Springs, the KKK. He was a sergeant in the US Army stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado. Ironically, he was married to a Mexican girl from San Antonio, Texas. The Klan does not like Mexicans. So he was a contradiction from the very beginning.
NARRATOR: So what was this conversation about? What did Ken want to talk about?
RON STALLWORTH: He told me he had gotten my letter. He wanted to know why I wanted to join. And I repeated what I had written in the letter: that I hated - and I quote: “N*****s, s****s, c****s, Jews, J***, and anybody else that isn't a pure Aryan and white, like I am.” His response to me was: “You're just the kind of guy we're looking for. When can we meet?”
NARRATOR: He’s fallen for it. Hook, line, and sinker.
RON STALLWORTH: He fell into the trap that we were putting in motion on his own. When you work undercover, if you can have the people believe your story from the very beginning, then basically you've got them in the palm of your hand. And then I had Ken in the palm of my hand on the very first conversation we had on the phone. And that's when my investigation was really off and running.
NARRATOR: And just like that, the plan is set in motion. But there’s one snag to Ron’s plan. Ron is an African American pretending to be a white man with white supremacist views. How can he proceed with the investigation without immediately blowing his cover?
RON STALLWORTH: The guy asked: “When could we meet?” I immediately told him I couldn't meet him right away because I had some business to take care of.
NARRATOR: Good move. Stall him. Give yourself more time to think of a plan. But what plan? Think fast.
RON STALLWORTH: But I told him I could meet him about a week later. And during the course of deciding where to meet a week later, he asked: “How will I know you when you show up?” And I described a white detective. Chuck was a narcotics officer. He worked right across the hall from me. And he was a good undercover cop. And Chuck was my height, my weight. And I knew how he generally came to work dressed. So I described Chuck. That's how we moved forward in this investigation.
NARRATOR: And once again, Ron wasn’t going to let a small thing like skin color get in the way of a good plan. Chuck was in, whether he liked it or not.
RON STALLWORTH: He had no say in the matter. I had set him in motion and I needed to continue this ruse that we were pulling off. And after I hung up from talking to the president of the KKK chapter, I went to the narcotics lieutenant - who was right next door to my office - told him what I had done, and told him I needed to use Chuck for this investigation. He immediately refused me because 1) he didn't like me; and 2) he said my plan would never work because once they heard Chuck's voice if he showed up in person, they would recognize Chuck's voice: a white man. His voice was different from my voice, a Black man, his voice over the phone. And when I confronted the lieutenant on his racist statement, I asked him: “How can you tell the difference between a Black man versus a white man?” He couldn't answer that. But he said he was adamant that you can't have him.
NARRATOR: But, Ron Stallworth, being Ron Stallworth, wasn’t going to give up on the idea.
RON STALLWORTH: I went back to my sergeant, told my Sergeant what he had said. The sergeant said: “What do you want to do?” I said: “I want to take this up with the chief of police.” So my sergeant and I marched upstairs to the chief's office. I told the chief what I had done, what I had set in motion. And the chief got on the phone to the sergeant in narcotics and told him to give me the use of Chuck and any other resources I may need to further my investigation.
NARRATOR: But what Ron is about to embark on is totally unprecedented. It’s never been done before - an African American man going undercover in the KKK. You couldn’t make this stuff up. Everything was lined up. Ron has the blessing of his chief. He has all the resources at his disposal. He has Chuck signed up to play the White Ron Stallworth. Now they were ready to move the investigation into a live, face-to-face environment.
RON STALLWORTH: A week later, I met Ken at the agreed-upon location. I mean, Chuck. I wired Chuck for sound. I could hear Chuck's end of the conversation. He went in, he met Ken and I believe three other Klansmen. It was in a bar. They were drinking beer. And Chuck was given his application form to join and was given instructions on how to fill out the application. He was given two or three of the Klan newspapers, the Crusader. Ken told him the basic plans that they had for their chapter. They wanted to give out gift bags of food to poor, needy, white families at Christmas. They wanted to have a major march down the main downtown thoroughfare. They wanted to get 100 Klansmen in white robes marching down this street and downtown Colorado Springs. That was their goal. All of these plans were laid out to Chuck at that first meeting.
NARRATOR: Ron and Chuck had to play this carefully. They were two undercover cops playing one man. This is a delicate act. How would you handle it? How would you keep track of what’s been said to who, when? How would you keep your stories consistent?
RON STALLWORTH: I was sitting in a car about a block away watching the location with binoculars.
NARRATOR: So like all good undercover investigations, there was good old-fashioned surveillance technology involved. Chuck was fixed up with listening devices so that the real Ron Stallworth could listen into the conversations Chuck was having with the Klan as he played the ‘white Ron Stallworth’.
RON STALLWORTH: I knew everything Chuck was saying because I was monitoring those conversations and the car had surveillance. So I could hear what Chuck was saying. And when I got on the phone the next day or the next hour after the meetings, I knew exactly what had taken place and how to proceed forward. Anything that I said on the phone to Ken, I would always tell Chuck so that Chuck would be able to respond should he get a phone call or before the next meeting he had with him, which I always set up.
NARRATOR: It was a careful act. Difficult to pull off, and there was one moment they almost got caught out.
RON STALLWORTH: Chuck had gone to a meeting that I had set up with Ken and other Klansmen, people at Ken's house. He was there for about an hour, maybe a little longer, and then the meeting ended. Chuck returned to the office. I talked to him a little bit and then Chuck went about his business as a narcotics detective. But something was said that I wanted to follow up on. So I waited for about an hour. Then I called Ken back pretending to be Chuck, who was pretending to be me.
NARRATOR: Confused? Yes, I’m not surprised… So was Ken.
RON STALLWORTH: And the minute Ken answered the phone, he said: “What's wrong with you, your voice sounds different?” And I coughed and said: “Oh, I have a sinus infection.” He said: “Oh, I get those all the time. Here's what you should do to fix that.” And he proceeded to prescribe a remedy for me.
NARRATOR: A narrow escape. They’d got away with it this time, no more questions asked, but it was a useful reminder to Ron that he had to stay focused. They’d successfully duped Ken and the rest of the Klan Chapter of Colorado Springs, but there was still one hitch. Ron Stallworth had not yet been officially accepted as a Klan member.
RON STALLWORTH: You were supposed to get a membership card within two weeks of submitting the application. After submitting my application two weeks passed, I got nothing. I asked Ken about it. Nothing.
NARRATOR: Most people might be feeling worried at this stage. Were the Klan onto him? Were they suspicious? Why hadn’t the card arrived? But Ron wasn’t stressed. No, he went straight to the top.
RON STALLWORTH: So I decided what the hell, I called David Duke directly. David Duke was the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan group that he ran. And, in the ‘70s, was arguably the preeminent Klan leader of his time. I told David my dilemma and asked if he could fix the problem. He assured me that he would. He said that they had been having problems at the headquarters office in Louisiana. And he said he would personally process my application and send my membership card to me, which I got in the mail about a week or two later, along with a certificate of membership, which I still have.
NARRATOR: That little red card, about the size of a credit card, emblazoned with an ominous black and white cross, is something that Ron still carries with him to this day.
RON STALLWORTH: Every time I walk out of my door, I have my wallet in my hip pocket and my card is in the wallet. Well, I keep it for two reasons. One, it is as a memento, a very unique memento of my police career - of my years working undercover. And two, 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!
NARRATOR: Getting in touch with David Duke was a big deal. Duke has been described by some as America's most well-known racist, and he was a key player in the game that Ron was trying to understand. And Ron wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip through his hands. No. This would lead to many fruitful conversations between Ron and David Duke.
RON STALLWORTH: We talked about a variety of subjects on the phone. One time I asked: “Mr. Duke, aren't you afraid of some smart-alec n****** calling you up pretending to be white?” He said: “No, I never worry about that.” When I asked him why he said: “Take you, for example. I can tell by the way you talk that you're a pure Aryan White man, from the way you pronounce certain words of the English language.” And I said: “Give me an example.” He said: “Take the word are. You pronounce it like it was meant to be pronounced. You say “are”, but a n***** would say “are-a are-a”. He said: “That's one way to determine whether the voice of the phone that you're talking to is a, a n***** or white man.” I told him: “Thank you for that. I never realized that.” I said: “From now on, whenever I talk to anybody on the phone and I don't know who they are, I will be sure to listen for those verbal cues.” And so, from that moment on whenever I talked to David Duke on the phone, I would always find a way to say “are-a” in the conversation. He never picked up on the fact that he was talking to one of them.
NARRATOR: As well as toying with David Duke and his ridiculous ideas about race, Ron’s conversations also helped to flesh out what the department knew about the Klan. These calls were a vital source of intel for the investigation. What Ron had achieved was impressive, a direct line with the Klan's most significant Klan leader… But all that was about to come under threat, as our story takes yet another unbelievable twist.
RON STALLWORTH: David Duke came to Colorado Springs in January of ‘79 for this long-awaited visit. So, on the morning that he first arrived, my chief contacted me and said that we're getting death threats against Duke: “I don't want anything happening to him in my city.” He said: “We have no one else available. You're assigned as his security, keep him alive until he leaves town.”
NARRATOR: Having built his persona as Ron The-White-Supremacist Stallworth, Ron was now being asked to shadow David Duke as Ron The-Black-Cop Stallworth. Everything was at stake. The whole investigation was in jeopardy.
RON STALLWORTH: I was pissed off. I argued against that because I was talking to David on a regular basis on the phone. So I was concerned that by being in close proximity to me, he may recognize my voice. The chief said: “We don't have anyone else available. You're it.” He was the chief, he gave me an order and I had to follow it up.
NARRATOR: Ron is the only Black officer in the department, and he gets the role of shadowing the most racist man in America for the day. The investigation aside, this was the last thing Ron wanted to do, but it was an order, and he had to comply.
RON STALLWORTH: So I went and met with Duke. I introduced myself, told him I was a detective with the Colorado Springs Police Department, and death threats were being made against him, and I was his security. And I promised, I told him: “I don't agree with your philosophy or political ideology,” I said, “But I am a professional and I would do everything I can to keep you alive and safe in my city.” We shook hands.
NARRATOR: Can you imagine shaking hands with a man like David Duke, a man responsible for spreading so much hate? A man who thinks you’re inferior because of the color of your skin, a man who leads an organization responsible for murders and violence against people of your race? Most people would flinch, but Ron is a professional, and he does what his job requires of him - but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to have some fun with the situation too.
RON STALLWORTH: During David Duke's visit, I asked him, I said: “Nobody will believe me when I tell them that I was your bodyguard. Would you mind taking a picture with me?” He said: “No, not at all.” I had bought a Polaroid, a self-developing camera with me, and I gave the camera to Chuck to take the picture.
NARRATOR: Because Chuck’s there too, pretending to be Ron The-White-Supremacist Stallworth. The two men who have been playing this same character are both there at this event and it’s tense, but it presents an opportunity too golden to be missed.
RON STALLWORTH: And I stood with David Duke on my right, and the Grand Dragon for the state of Colorado on my left. And I put my arm around their shoulders. The Grand Dragon thought it was funny. David Duke was not appreciative of that gesture and he pushed my arm away, telling me he couldn't appear in a picture with me like that. So I said: “Okay, I understand. Excuse me for a second.” And I walked over to Chuck and talked to him and whispered hush tones as if I was explaining something about the camera. And I told Chuck on the count of three, snap the photo. Then I went and I stood back between the two men and I counted: one, two, and on the count of three, I raised my arm to put them over both of their shoulders. And Chuck snapped the picture. 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: “Don't do it.” And he glared at me in the most hateful manner, then walked off and started talking to his followers.
NARRATOR: In that moment, Ron was David Duke’s worst nightmare: he was an African American with a badge and he had all the power. The whole thing was incredibly risky, but they got away with it all, not even a whiff of suspicion from the Klan. The investigation was going well, too well.
RON STALLWORTH: Got a phone call one day from Ken, the chapter president, and Ken was getting out of the Army and headed back to San Antonio, Texas, his hometown. And he said the Klan needed more stable, permanent leadership, and they needed someone who was a member of the community. And he said that they had held the vote at one of the meetings and they had decided that Ron Stallworth was a loyal member of the Klan and they wanted him - ie, me, Chuck - to assume leadership of the Colorado Springs chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. When I told my chief of police, the chief said: “Close the investigation down immediately.” He was worried we had gone too far and we were bordering on what’s known in American law as ‘entrapment’, which means you can't be in a position to control an individual to commit a crime that he may not otherwise be predisposed to do. So the chief says: “Shut the investigation down.” Now I was pissed off.
NARRATOR: After seven-and-a-half months of hard work, complex games of identity swapping, and lengthy phone calls to the top leaders of the Klan, they had to wind the whole thing up because they’d done their jobs too well. But what did they have to show for all that hard work?
RON STALLWORTH: We identified Klansmen in top-security clearance assignments at NORAD, the North American air defense command, which is a joint venture with the country of Canada to protect North American airspace. We identified two Klansmen working there and were in touch with officials at the Pentagon. And when they found out about this, they immediately transferred those two airmen from their assignment. And we identified the leak between the Klan and another right-wing, far-extremist right-wing group called the Posse Comitatus along with the American Nazi Party out of Denver. So we identified these links that had never been connected before.
NARRATOR: There was a lot to be proud of. Making the connections between the American Nazi Party, another racist organization, and the Posse Comitatus, a far-right populist movement. It all helped build the nationwide picture of radical right-wing networks. Plus, removing Klan members from government jobs was key. But there’s one thing in particular that Ron remembers with fondness.
RON STALLWORTH: I'm proud of the fact that we were successful in making a complete and total fool out of the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and his followers.
NARRATOR: The investigation was over, but the story wasn’t.
RON STALLWORTH: January 2006, the newspaper had written a piece about my retirement. After 20 years of Utah law enforcement, the reporter asked me: “What's the most significant thing that you feel you've done over the course of your career?” And instead of focusing on the work that I did work in gangs in Utah, she wrote her story and focused on my KKK investigation. And in January, the story went viral on the internet. And that was when the public first found out about the story.
NARRATOR: Yes this was decades later, but Ron's cover was well and truly blown. It was out there in the public realm, and his name and the details of the investigation were all over the internet. Was he spooked?
RON STALLWORTH: No, I was a trained, undercover cop. We don't get worried about stuff like that.
NARRATOR: But the story inevitably fell into the wrong hands, and soon Ron’s face was staring out from some of America’s more sinister publications.
RON STALLWORTH: It was a Storm Front website, Storm Front is one of the far-extremist, right-wing organizations in America. And this was a website of theirs. They printed a full-page, color photo of me and put it on their website and basically said: “This is the undercover cop that made a fool out of David Duke.” There was a lot of chatter back and forth on their website between people talking about the n***** cop and how David Duke was duped, and don't trust n*****s, and kill this guy and things of that nature. It was kind of funny.
NARRATOR: True to his character, Ron was unfazed. Last year, Ron went on to see his story taken to the silver screen. One of the world’s most celebrated directors, Spike Lee, adapted Ron’s bizarre true story for the big screen in what became one of 2019’s most applauded films.
RON STALLWORTH: I was very pleased with the movie. It is a weird experience to sit in a theater and recognize that what you're watching is about you, and a chapter in your life - a very moving experience. It felt weird, still feels weird, but Spike did a masterful job with my story. I had no complaints. I'm very pleased with what he compiled and how he did it. And I was very excited by the fact that it won the Academy Award.
NARRATOR: What a surreal experience. Imagine seeing your story told on-screen to audiences around the world. But for Ron, the story’s not over. There is still so much work to do when it comes to tackling issues of racism, especially when it comes to law enforcement.
RON STALLWORTH: The Black Lives Matter movement. I am a strong advocate for it. I believe in what they're doing, what they're trying to accomplish. It’s not a terrorist organization, contrary to what Donald Trump likes to say and conservatives in America like to put out. Black Lives Matter is about blending the police community with the community in general, especially the Black community. They're about saving the lives of young Black men who are disproportionately being targeted and killed by out-of-control, unconstitutional-acting rogue police officers. I am a strong supporter of that moment. I believe in what they're doing. I am particularly happy that this movement has now gained international standing and has crossed all racial boundaries because people now see that what happens in the Black community affects everybody. And if you don't get a hold of it, It may creep into your life.
NARRATOR: I’m Vanessa Kirby. I’ll be back next week for another liaison with True Spies. We all have valuable spy skills, and our experts are here to help you discover yours. Get an authentic assessment of your spy skills, created by a former Head of Training at British Intelligence, now at SPYSCAPE.com.
Retired US police officer Ron Stallworth infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan's Colorado chapter in the late 1970s. He was the first African-American detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department and the movie BlacKkKlansman starring John David Washington is is based on his story.