In October 1978, Detective Ron Stallworth infiltrated the Colorado Springs chapter of the KKK, making him the organization’s first Black klansman.
At the time, notorious White supremacist David Duke was attempting to rebrand the organization. Publicly, Duke said his Knights of the Ku Klux Klan were a non-violent group focused on White heritage, yet behind the scenes Duke and other White supremacists spewed racial epithets, planned cross burnings and wanted armed vigilante klansmen to guard the Rio Grande border, Stallworth said.
“In private he threw the [N-word] around all the time in talking to me,” Stallworth said. “In public he never used it at all.”
Stallworth, who detailed his undercover efforts in his 2014 memoir “Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime,” was able to help prevent several cross burnings the group had planned for the area and unmasked two klansmen who had top security level status at norad. While the Klan did not take root in Colorado Springs, Duke was able to successfully take his brand of White nationalism mainstream in the decades that followed, Stallworth said.
“It’s the norm now for White supremacists to claim their views in a political guise, and that political guise is in synch with that of conservative Republicans,” Stallworth said. “The two are united and one gives cover to the other.”
Stallworth said he discovered that the Klan was looking to establish itself in Colorado Springs when he saw they had placed an ad in a local newspaper, and he decided to respond.
“I was an intelligence detective,” Stallworth said. “Monitoring subversive groups was part of my job, and the Klan is a subversive group, so I simply did my job.”
Stallworth, who used his real name when he responded to the ad, said he thought he would only receive literature, pamphlets, or a copy of the Klan newspaper in response. Instead, he received a phone call from the head of the chapter and the investigation began.
For more than seven months, Stallworth pretended to be a White supremacist and spoke with the chapter leader and other Klan members over the phone, while a White detective met with them in person.
Despite the complexities of the investigation, Stallworth said he was never concerned that the Klan members would discover that there were two Ron Stallworths.
“I was a trained undercover cop,” Stallworth said. “We don’t get nervous. We do our job.”
He called the operation a “typical police investigation.”
“I had no agenda in mind when I started the investigation,” Stallworth said.
“We weren’t hoping to do anything other than to gather the information that was out there on the KKK and its impact on Colorado Springs.”
When the Klan invited him to participate in two of the cross burnings it was planning, Stallworth said he alerted police dispatch so the area would be saturated if they followed through with their plans.
“They chickened out as a result of that,” Stallworth said.
Had they been successful, it would have “unnerved the community,” Stallworth said.
“Cross burnings always unnerve a community,” Stallworth said. “That’s been the history of it.”
The Klan was not able to execute any of their planned cross burnings during his investigation, which Stallworth said “felt good.”
Along with foiling the cross burnings, Stallworth also reached out to the Klan’s national hotline and said he was surprised when Duke answered the phone.
“The first phone call, when he picked it up, I was surprised because it was supposed to be a recorded message,” Stallworth said.
Stallworth said that Duke was “very pleasant on the phone [and] a very nice conversationalist, but he couldn’t go five minutes, if that long, without talking about race and genetic superiority of Whites over minorities.”
Duke was also very different from the public persona he had crafted, Stallworth said.
“On the phone he revealed himself,” Stallworth said. “In public he concealed a lot.”
The two eventually met when Duke visited Colorado Springs and Stallworth was assigned to protect him. During his visit, Stallworth asked if they could take a photo together. As the polaroid was taken, Stallworth quickly threw his arm around Duke.
“[I] wanted to have a photo that clearly indicated that I was in the moment with this fool,” Stallworth said.
Stallworth said he no longer has the photo.
“It’s been lost for years,” Stallworth said.
The investigation was abruptly shut down in 1979 after the Klan chapter attempted to make Stallworth its leader. Stallworth said he would like to have seen it through to the end.
“We didn’t get to an ultimate conclusion,” Stallworth said. “I would like to have seen how far we could have gone.
“We’ll never know,” Stallworth said. “It would have been fun to find out, though.”
Duke also left the Klan that year for unrelated reasons and formed the National Association for the Advancement of White People.
The two didn’t speak again for nearly 40 years, when Duke called out of concern for how he was going to be portrayed in Spike Lee’s adaptation of “BlacKkKlansman.”
“We talked for an hour about a variety of things,” Stallworth said. “He said he was not a racist and a White supremacist in spite of endorsing Trump, who is.
“He said Trump’s not a racist or White supremacist because what he’s doing to keep minorities out is to help preserve White culture and White heritage,” Stallworth said. “That’s just one of the things; there was a lot.”
Unlike the times they spoke during the investigation, Stallworth said he was able to push back against Duke’s rhetoric.
“Every chance I got, I did,” Stallworth said.
He said he doesn’t think much of Duke one way or the other.
“David Duke is just another man to me,” Stallworth said. “He was just another subject of an investigation. I didn’t give him any special creedence one way or the other.”
Today, Stallworth said, the most powerful White supremist lives in the White House.
“Donald Trump is a bigoted, racist White supremacist,” Stallworth said. “People know it, but there’s a certain segment of our society, namely the Republican Party, that provides him cover to be a bigoted, racist, White supremacist and not call him out on it.”
Republicans, Stallworth said, have “lost the moral compass.”
“America has lost the moral compass too,” Stallworth said.
“Donald Trump should not be where he’s at, America screwed up two years ago and allowed him to get into that office,” he said.
The country is now paying a price for electing Trump, Stallworth said.
“We’re going to have to live with it until we can right this wrong,” Stallworth said.
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