Adam Driver (left) plays Flip Zimmerman (called Chuck in the book) and John David Washington as Ron Stallworth in a scene from Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman.
Adam Driver (left) plays Flip Zimmerman (called Chuck in the book) and John David Washington as Ron Stallworth in a scene from Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman.

Police ‘recruit’ foiled Ku Klux Klan’s plans

RON Stallworth was the first African American detective appointed to the Intelligence Unit of the Colorado Springs Police Force. The ad struck him as odd.

Why would a place such as Security with a suburban housing development that was home to military personnel working on nearby bases and had never had any known KKK activity, be looking for members?

Despite his reservation, he answered the ad. Expecting to receive maybe a brochure or even thinking it might be a prank, he signed his real name rather than one of his undercover aliases.

Fortunately he gave his undercover phone number and, a couple of weeks later, got a call from KKK organiser Ken O'dell asking him why he wanted to join. Stallworth quickly imitated the sort of hateful, racist invective he knew the Klansman wanted to hear, including how it made him sick that his sister was involved with a "nigger".

 

Ron Stallworth, author of Black Klansman.
Ron Stallworth, author of Black Klansman.

 

It seemed authentic enough to impress O'dell who invited him to a meeting. It set in motion a series of events that saw an African-American police officer infiltrate the KKK.

His story is the subject of a new film BlacKkKlansman opening on Thursday, based on Stallworth's book Black Klansman: A Memoir (Penguin, $19.99).

Stallworth was born in 1953 in Chicago and raised in El Paso before he was hired as a police cadet in Colorado Springs in 1972. He was put to work on filing and later as a parking cop. When he saw how narcotics officers dressed casually he decided he wanted to join that department. Stallworth did his first undercover work for narcotics when they needed a black operative to go to a Black Panthers rally. When he finished his cadetship he was assigned to narcotics, vice and later the Intelligence Unit.

The purpose of the unit was not to arrest people but to gather intelligence on organisations that posed some kind of threat of illegal activity.

The KKK was just such an organisation, known for acts of domestic terrorism, which is why Stallworth sent off his note. But he had no specific plan of action and was not expecting any contact, so when O'dell suggested a meeting, Stallworth accepted. He described himself as looking like a white officer he knew in narcotics named Chuck (not his real name).

He asked Chuck to be his stand-in at the meeting, while Stallworth handled the investigation via telephone.

 

David Duke, self-styled Grand Master of Ku Klux Klan, in England in late 1970s.
David Duke, self-styled Grand Master of Ku Klux Klan, in England in late 1970s.

 

Over the phone O'dell told Stallworth that they were on a recruiting drive and the local chapter was expecting a visit from the Grand Wizard of the KKK, David Duke, who was undertaking a charm offensive to make the Klan more presentable.

At the first meeting O'dell revealed to Chuck (standing in as Stallworth) plans to conduct cross burnings and a march to welcome Duke. Chuck indicated his willingness to join and was given an application form.

The day after the meeting Stallworth rang KKK propaganda line The Voice of the Clan and, while listening to a recorded message of Duke's voice, Duke actually broke in to speak to Stallworth.

The police officer would have several chats with Duke on the phone. In another conversation, the Klan leader said he could tell Stallworth wasn't black because of the way he spoke.

O'dell soon revealed that he and other Klan members were soon leaving town and he wanted to make Stallworth the head of the local chapter. This had to be avoided given the potential for charges of entrapment if Chuck or Stallworth had to organise cross burnings and other terrorist acts.

 

Black Klansman: A Memoir by Ron Stallworth. Arrow (Penguin), $19.99
Black Klansman: A Memoir by Ron Stallworth. Arrow (Penguin), $19.99

 

But the trust placed in Chuck/Stallworth meant that they were soon privy to the names of local members, which included high-level military personnel, and also some of the Klan's darkest plans such as bombing gay bars.

Chuck was formally inducted at a ceremony in January 1979 (sans white robes because Stallworth couldn't get the police department to pay $40 for them) where Duke sprinkled him and other inductees with holy water.

When Duke made his public appearance in Colorado Springs, Stallworth formed part of the security detail and cheekily had his photo taken with Duke. Fortunately Duke never recognised Stallworth's voice nor was the officer's name ever revealed.

Stallworth's investigation allowed police to thwart cross burnings and provided useful information on KKK operations. The investigation was shut down in March 1979, partly because of O'dell's insistence that Stallworth take over as organiser.



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