Ron Stallworth, black detective who infiltrated KKK, to speak in Pittsburgh
As the first black detective on the Colorado Springs, Colo., police force, Ron Stallworth had no expectations in the fall of 1978 when he responded to a classified ad in a local newspaper by the Ku Klux Klan seeking new members.
“I thought I might get a brochure back in the mail or something,” Stallworth told the Tribune-Review. “In fact, I thought it might be a joke at first.”
About one week later, however, the telephone rang on the secure line in the detective’s bureau. It was the local Klan chapter leader wanting to speak with Stallworth.
“He wanted to know why I wanted to join the Klan. I literally had to formulate a plan on the spur of the moment,” Stallworth said Monday.
Some 40 years later, the now-retired detective’s investigation is featured in the Spike Lee written and directed movie, “BlacKkKlansman.” The film is based on Stallworth’s 2014 book, “Black Klansman: A Memoir,” that recollects his seven-month probe into local KKK activities.
Stallworth, 65, will speak at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Kaufmann Center’s Hillman Auditorium, 1825 Centre Ave., Pittsburgh. The program is part of the Hill House Association’s “Live from the Hill” series featuring African-American artists, musicians, performers and authors.
Stallworth said the local Klan leader wanted to meet with him after that initial call where he feigned racist beliefs.
“Obviously, I couldn’t meet in person with him, but I got another undercover detective who was white and worked in narcotics to meet with him in person as Ron Stallworth, and I did all of the telephone communications during the investigation,” Stallworth said.
As a result, Stallworth and his partner sabotaged two planned cross-burnings and unmasked two local Klansmen who had “top-level” security status with the North American Air Defense Command.
“I was invited to the cross burnings, and I would call dispatch where they were about to occur and we would infiltrate those areas with police patrols,” Stallworth said. “When the participants saw the police activity, they would pull out.”
He said the two NORAD officials were immediately removed from their jobs “as they were seen as national security threats.”
“A cross burning is really a domestic act of terrorism. The only purpose of a cross burning is to intimidate a community, and I am very proud of the fact that I was able to deter them from pulling it off,” Stallworth said.
During the investigation, Stallworth said he was in regular conversations with David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who at the time would disclose to Stallworth what activities were planned across the United States.
“I would get the information on where these events would be held and forward them to the local jurisdictions. But I will tell you, I was only doing my job at the time,” Stallworth said.
Last summer, as trailers for the movie were being released, Stallworth said he received a call and “immediately recognized” the man’s voice.
“(Duke) was naturally upset that the movie trailers he had seen didn’t portray him in a positive light,” Stallworth said.
The Chicago native who grew up in El Paso, Texas, said Duke falsely lamented he was not “either a white supremacist or racist” but promoting his own white culture and heritage.
Stallworth said he pushed back, emphasizing “America is a multicultural, diverse society.”
“When I would counter him, he would change the subject immediately,” Stallworth said.
As for the problem of racism in America, Stallworth said, “I can honestly say, it has not improved any.”
“And the events of 40 years ago, I believe, have come alive again under this (Donald Trump) administration,” Stallworth said.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @ppeirce_trib.