Ron Stallworth in Iowa City

Lauren Ulveling , A&E Writer

“If one black man, aided by a bevy of good, decent, dedicated, open-, and liberal-minded whites and Jews can succeed in prevailing over a group of white racists by making them look like the ignorant fools they truly are, then imagine what a nation of like-minded individuals can accomplish,” Ron Stallworth states in his memoir Black Klansman. Stallworth knows a thing or two about prevailing over a closed minded group. He infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan.

In October 1978, Stallworth, working as an Intelligence Unit detective, came across an ad in a daily newspaper. It read: “Ku Klux Klan. For Information Contact P.O. Box 4771 Security, Colorado 80230”. He wrote a letter to the P.O. box saying he was a white man interested in joining the Klan. After signing his real name he dropped it in a mailbox and forgot about it. Two weeks later he received a phone call asking to speak to Stallworth. The caller was Ken O’dell, a member of the Colorado Springs chapter of the KKK. After an over the phone interview, O’dell wanted to meet Stallworth in person. One small problem: Stallworth wasn’t white. He was the first African-American police officer in Colorado.

After the phone interview, Stallworth knew he needed a plan and needed one quick. He went to his sergeant, Ken Trapp, and told him that he wanted to use Chuck (a white officer who wished to remain anonymous) for the in person meetings. Trapp and Stallworth went directly to the chief of police. With only one week before the meeting, all they had left to do was get Chuck on board and two surveillance detectives to accompany him. “He started laughing. ‘A black cop infiltrating the Klan? This is nuts. Won’t they know you’re black?’ [Chuck said.] ‘That’s why we’re going to be on the same page. I’ll be listening to everything you and he say through the mic. And you’ll be aware of everything I say to him on the phone. I’m the voice you’re the face.’ [Stallworth said.] ‘This is just about the craziest thing I’ve heard. I’m in’ said Chuck,” Stallworth wrote in his memoir. Chuck attended the meeting the next week and O’dell gave him his application, thus starting the seven-month undercover investigation.

Junior Lauren Ulveling attends a lecture from Ron Stallworth in Iowa City. Photo Submitted.

“If he was up here right now you’d like him. The kind of guy you would want your daughter to bring home, until he started talking about race,” Stallworth said about the KKK Grand Wizard, David Duke. In one of the pamphlets Chuck received there was a phone number for “The Voice of the Klan”. Stallworth called it and found out that it was just a prerecorded message promoting KKK propaganda. As the call went on it was interrupted by a voice. Stallworth quickly picked up and asked who was speaking. It was the Grand Wizard himself, David Duke. Stallworth established a relationship over the phone by praising Duke. Later Stallworth called Duke in regards to getting his membership card. Duke personality processed his application. “The card that I carry David Duke signed and sent to me. That idiot,” Stallworth said. The two unlikely “friends” began speaking one or two times a week. Ron would call him to tell him how well the Klan was doing and Duke would go on about all their upcoming plans. Following these chats, Ron would call law enforcement in that city’s jurisdiction to alert them of the Klan’s activities. Duke would call Stallworth and express how surprising it is that the police were aware of the Klan’s plans, as if they knew beforehand what they were going to do.

The Klan starting preparing for the Grand Wizard’s visit on January 10. They watched The Birth of a Nation and gave out KKK T-shirts. While the Klan was doing that, the CO police department were also preparing. They were getting extra man power in case of a violent protest. The morning of January 10, Stallworth was called to the Chief’s office. He was assigned Duke’s personal security guard. Stallworth said in a phone interview, to the question of if there were any moments he feared he would be found out. “The only moment that concerned me was then I was assigned David Duke’s bodyguard because we had been having phone conversations, but after talking to him for five minutes that moment passed real quick,” Stallwoth then asked Duke for a favor. Duke, Denver Klan leader Fred Wilkins, and Ken O’dell posed with Stallworth for a photo. Ron gave his camera to Chuck. On the count of three Stallworth put his arms around Duke and Wilkins. “I pulled this stunt in part because no one would ever believe that I was pulling this investigation off. I had the membership card, I had the certificate, but the picture would have been the visual proof of everything, and would have been the real embarrassment for Duke. Here’s a black man cozying up to him. I was determined to get it.

“People often ask me, who did you arrest? No one. What we did was prevent three domestic acts of terrorism- cross burnings. We identified two top personal at NORAD. By any measure my investigation was a success,” Stallworth said. You can read the complete story in Stallworth’s book “Black Klansman” and watch the Oscar nominated movie BlackKlansman.

In an over the phone interview with Mr. Stallworth, he gave this advice to young people who want to make a difference.

“The advice I would give is to find something you are passionate about and were that passion comes alive. Some people wander aimlessly. I would take time to find that passion and devote myself to it whatever that passion may be.”