Ron Stallworth made headlines in 2006 when a reporter uncovered the retired cop’s amazing story. When Stallworth was the first black police officer in Colorado Springs in the late ’70s, he went undercover and infiltrated the Colorado Ku Klux Klan, becoming not only the leader of his local chapter, but even playing the organization’s Grand Wizard for a fool. He uncovered not only the Klan’s plans around the country, but also the involvement of a significant number of military personnel from nearby bases.
Stallworth operated over the phone with the KKK members, while a white undercover cop attended meetings using his name. The Klan never figured it out.
Now, Stallworth is out with a book detailing his exploits. Here are the juiciest bits.
Move over, Deep South—Colorado was apparently Klan Central.
According to Stallworth’s research, the Ku Klux Klan once had the run of things in Colorado. By 1923, he says, there were 30,000-45,000 members in the state, half of them in Denver alone. In fact, Denver was a center for Klan power—Klansman Ben Stapleton was the city’s longtime mayor from 1923 to 1931 and again from 1935 to 1947. Even more shocking, despite the fact that he had openly run on the Klan ticket, the city’s airport bore Stapleton’s name until 1995.
Furthermore, Stallworth claims, Colorado’s governor at that time, Clarence Morley, was also a Klansman, and the state’s two U.S. senators also had dealings with the Klan. City police departments, state judiciaries, and city governments were stocked with Klansmen.
He is McNulty.
One of the more popular characters from The Wire is the troublesome detective Jimmy McNulty—a thorn in the side of his superiors and a bit out-of-the-box in his police work. Stallworth certainly fits that mold.
He refers to one of his work rivals derisively as a “Yes Man” and a “Kiss Ass.” According to Stallworth, the rival “was always willing to do the bidding of those in a position to help advance his personal agenda. He always adhered to departmental protocol, never crossing the line or even going near it.”
Thank goodness for the print industry!
Stallworth first got involved with the Klan when he discovered an ad in the classified section of the local newspaper that read:
Ku Klux Klan For Information Contact P.O. Box 4771 Security, Colorado 80230
Its security was a bit lax.
During the entire time Stallworth and his fellow detectives were infiltrating the Klan, they were never once asked for proper identification. The group’s bank account was under the name “White People, Inc.”
And when he was confronted, just once, about how his voice sounded different on the phone than in person, he claimed it was just sinus problems. They believed him and never brought it up again.
The Klan was kind of pathetic.
While it had once dominated Colorado politics, by the time was infiltrated by Stallworth, the Klan was a shadow of its former self. The state chapter was stressed out about its ability to hold a rally for Grand Wizard David Duke because it could not get together 100 of its members who actually owned the full set of white robes. When Stallworth had first applied, he was told that hood and robes were not included with his purchase of the membership.
They were also so desperate, they asked Stallworth to become the head of the Colorado Springs chapter of the Klan—despite his very recent membership.
In addition, the Colorado chapter also wrote sympathetic letters-to-the-editor using the pseudonym “Carlos Gutierrez.”
Perhaps most embarrassing, the group still used the notoriously racist D. W. Griffith’s silent-era film Birth of a Nation as a recruiting tool.
People’s reasons for joining up were also pathetic.
As can be expected, the reasons for joining the Klan are a bit out of whack.
For the head of the Colorado Klan, a fireman named Fred Wilkens, it was “reverse discrimination, school integration, rising crime and Jewish suppression.” However, Wilkens found his passion for the Klan and its beliefs only went so far. In order to keep his job as a fireman, he had to treat all citizens equally, and therefore was reported to have famously once given a black man mouth-to-mouth.
Often men and women joined over vicious crimes they claimed blacks were behind—which never seemed to show up in police reports. One man claimed he had been shot by black men and his wife raped by a group of them. Another claimed his wife had recently been stabbed by blacks.
Stallworth really liked making Duke look like a fool.
On more than one occasion, Stallworth undercuts the image of Grand Wizard David Duke as a fearsome figure. According to the detective, he talked to Duke weekly or bi-weekly, and in one conversation Duke told Stallworth, again a black man, “I can always tell when I’m talking to a n——-. Take you for example. I can tell that you’re a pure Aryan white man by the way you talk, the way you pronounce certain words and letters.”
He goes on to claim, “N——-s do not have the same intelligence as the white man to properly speak English the way it was meant to be spoken.”
The author says he was also playing Duke the whole time to provide intelligence to other law enforcement outfits, including the FBI and the New Orleans Police Department. Duke was so easily flattered that he would willingly open up about his plans around the country.
Later, when Duke went to Colorado Springs, the police chief assigned Stallworth (the real, black Stallworth) to Duke’s protective detail. Stallworth got his revenge, sneakily getting a photo taken of him with his harms around Duke.
The KKK wasn’t his only target.
A good portion of the book also focuses on his undercover work with anti-KKK groups, most notably the Progressive Labor Party.
However, the most fascinating bit outside of his KKK work might have been his very first undercover gig, at the age of 21. Stokely Carmichael, the honorary prime minister of the Black Panther Party, was coming to town, so the police department had its only black officer, Stallworth, go undercover to discover what kind of trouble Carmichael had planned. Ironically, Stallworth found himself caught up in Carmichael’s speech and ending up cheering at various points.
It was more than a joke to him.
“As a result of our combined effort, no parents of a black or other minority child, or any other child for that matter, had to explain why an 18-foot cross was seen burning at this or that location—especially those individuals from the South, who, perhaps as children, had experienced the terroristic act of a Klan cross-burning.” According to Stallworth, while no arrests were made and none of the illegal contraband (notably guns) was seized, the real benefit to his investigation was that the police department was able to prevent the terrorizing of communities through the cross-burnings.