The true story of Ron Stallworth from BlacKkKlansman

Directed by Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman is based on one of the craziest true crime stories ever told. The film stars John David Washington as Detective Ron Stallworth, a Colorado cop who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan. Of course, that's way easier said than done since the Klan is the most notorious white supremacist group in American history and Stallworth is a black man. Conducting his investigation over the telephone and using the help of an undercover white officer (played by Adam Driver), Stallworth brings the hammer down on the hate group, fooling the head honcho Klansman, preventing a deadly terrorist attack, and exposing the hate group from the inside. Granted, the movie spices things up a bit with some obligatory action scenes and additional characters, but with its undercover stings and its made-for-Hollywood moments, the true story of Ron Stallworth is just as crazy as Spike Lee's critically acclaimed film.

Stallworth joins the force

Before he started punking the KKK, the real-life Ron Stallworth spent his early years living in El Paso, Texas. But in 1972, the 19-year-old moved with his mom and siblings to Colorado Springs, Colorado. It was here that Stallworth started making history. Hoping to put himself through college so he could become a gym teacher, he joined the Colorado Springs Police Department.

This was a major moment for the town, as Stallworth was the first black officer in the department's history. However, he quickly learned that being the only African-American in an all-white department might not be an easy gig. He was told by multiple people that he might face resentment from his fellow officers and that he'd basically be the "Jackie Robinson" of Colorado Springs — a pioneer who was all alone and surrounded by people who didn't want him there.

Even his job interview was uncomfortable. As he explained to Texas Monthly, the interview was conducted by a black city personnel manager and two white cops, and as Stallworth put it, "I think I heard [the n-word] three or four times during the course of my interview." Needless to say, it wasn't the black guy dropping those slurs. But despite the uneasy job interview, Stallworth quickly rose through the ranks, and he'd soon gone from a cadet to an undercover officer.

Going undercover

From the moment Ron Stallworth became a Colorado Springs cadet, he was jealous of the undercover narcotics officers because they got to walk around "with long beards and long hair looking like San Francisco hippies." As he explained to Vice, he thought it was pretty awesome that you could be a cop and look cool, and that's when he decided he wanted to go undercover.

Eventually, Stallworth got his wish and shed his uniform for street clothes. Just like in the film, his first undercover mission was infiltrating a speech given by Black Power leader Kware Tume, formerly known as Stokely Carmichael. Tume was known for his fiery speeches, and the cops wanted to make sure things didn't get out of hand at his rally, so Stallworth got a seat in the audience and watched the crowds.

While Stallworth didn't make a love connection at the rally (Laura Harrier's character of Patrice was invented for the film), he did feel some really complicated emotions. Stallworth admitted to Vice that he was uneasy with this particular job because, while he was a loyal cop, he agreed with a lot of what Tume said about the difficulties of being a black American. It was then Stallworth realized he was "caught in that dual world that … black officers live in." Still, the assignment paid off. Stallworth soon became the city's first African-American detective, was moved over to the department's intelligence division, and four years after joining the force, he got to infiltrate the most notorious terrorist group in U.S. history: the Ku Klux Klan.

Colorado's crazy KKK history

With their white hoods and fiery crosses, the Ku Klux Klan might be the most recognizable hate group in history. The organization started in 1866, and just one year later, they were murdering thousands of people to keep black citizens from voting. The U.S. government cracked down on the group in 1871, but the KKK had a resurgence in 1920 thanks to the infamous 1915 film The Birth of a Nation.

And while the Klan was strong throughout the U.S., they were particularly powerful in Colorado. The organization invaded the Centennial State in 1921, and in a few years, they had up to 40,000 members. According to a PBS documentary, Colorado had more Klansmen per capita than any state except Indiana, and they had members throughout Colorado's government. Governor Clarence J. Morley and both of the state's U.S. senators were Klansmen. The mayor of Denver and the city's chief of police also wore white hoods, not to mention Colorado's lieutenant governor, attorney general, and members of the State House, state Supreme Court, and multiple city councils.

The Klan hosted big events like auto races and picnics in hopes of attracting new members. And when they weren't catering to white crowds, they were busy harassing minorities. It's a fact that the Colorado Klan killed a black postal worker, and it's alleged they burned down an African-American church in Denver. While the Klan's power began to fade nationwide in 1925, there were still pockets of hate throughout Colorado (as seen in Spike Lee's film) … and one of those groups was about to get its first black member.

Contacting the KKK

It was October 1978, and it seemed like an ordinary day for Detective Ron Stallworth. He was looking through a newspaper when he spotted an unusual ad. It was calling for racists to join the local chapter of the KKK, and it gave an address for anyone who wanted more info. Intrigued, Stallworth sent the Klan a little note, claiming he was white, that he wanted to join the group, and that he hated "anybody who wasn't pure Aryan white." And since he wasn't really expecting to launch a giant investigation into the Klan, he went ahead and signed the letter with his real name.

Then a few weeks later, he got a phone call from the Klan.

However, the racist on the other end of the line didn't refer to the group as the KKK. He called it "The Organization," and he asked Stallworth why he wanted to join. Similar to the film, the detective launched into a monologue filled with every slur imaginable. He also claimed he was especially angry because his white sister was dating a black man. This hate-filled speech impressed the Klan organizer, who then asked Stallworth when they could meet. Obviously, that was going to be a tad impossible, but the detective knew this was a huge opportunity to investigate a hate group that had terrorized Colorado for years, so he was forced to get real creative real fast.

Meet Chuck

When Ron Stallworth contacted the KKK, he didn't expect them to set up a face-to-face meeting. But being a good detective, he wasn't going to turn the opportunity down. Of course, his skin color prevented him from going to the meet-up himself, so when the Klansman asked Stallworth to describe his appearance, he gave a description of a fellow undercover officer, a man who could play the white version of Ron Stallworth.

In BlacKkKlansman, Stallworth's white counterpart is a Jewish cop named Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), but most of that was made up for the film. In reality, we don't know his identity, but we do know he wasn't Jewish and wasn't named Flip. Instead, Stallworth refers to his partner as "Chuck," although whenever Chuck attended Klan meetings, he had to use Stallworth's name because the detective had signed his real name on that first letter he sent to the Klan.

There was another slight hiccup that Stallworth had to overcome: He gave Chuck's description before finding out if Chuck could actually do the job. And Chuck's lieutenant was totally opposed to the operation. He thought the Klan would tell the difference between Stallworth's "black voice" and Chuck's "white voice," a concept that didn't sit well with Stallworth. But Stallworth eventually got Chuck on his team, and anytime "Ron" had to attend a Klan meeting, Chuck would show up wearing a wire.

Hanging out with these racists was incredibly dangerous. In fact, one Klansman who attended meetings with Chuck would help assassinate a Jewish radio host in 1984. Of course, Chuck had to juggle the KKK investigation with all his other missions, so most of the time, it was Stallworth working the phones. And that's what led the Black Klansman to finally meet with a wizard.

Fooling David Duke

In the 1970s, David Duke was the national director of the KKK (aka "Grand Wizard"). Duke was a man who tried to clean up the Klan's image by shifting the emphasis from being "anti-black" to "pro-white," and by emphasizing business suits over scary white robes. Having said all that, Duke was still a hateful racist to his core, and when this bigot crossed paths with Ron Stallworth, all manner of hilarity ensued.

The two first spoke after Stallworth got tired of waiting for the Klan to process his application. Several weeks had gone by, so he called Duke himself. The head honcho picked up the phone, apologized for the delay, and personally processed Stallworth's membership card and certificate. But that wasn't the only time Stallworth and Duke talked on the phone. The two had multiple conversations, where Stallworth would butter him up and Duke would talk about all his plans for the Klan. Stallworth also admits their relationship was something like a "friendship, for lack of a better word," and that Duke was kind of a pleasant guy … when he was talking about white supremacy and dropping the n-word.

In addition to mining Duke for all sorts of juicy info, Stallworth had a blast messing with the guy. At one point, he asked Duke if he ever worried that a black man would call him on the phone and pretend to be white. The grand wizard replied if that ever happened, he would immediately know, claiming he could identify a black person by the way they pronounced certain words. Needless to say, Stallworth's fellow officers found this hilarious (especially since Stallworth didn't use a "white voice" on the phone like he did in the film). In fact, whenever he spoke to Klansmen, his partners would often have to leave the room because they were laughing so hard. As Stallworth put it, Klan members weren't exactly the "brightest lightbulbs."

Meeting David Duke

After talking on the phone for so long, Ron Stallworth finally met David Duke in the weirdest way possible. The Grand Wizard was coming to Colorado Springs to attend a Klan rally and to do some PR work. He also planned on baptizing new members, including Chuck, into the Klan. Of course, Duke wasn't the most popular guy in the world, and he was getting death threats. So the Colorado Springs Police Department decided the Klansman needed protection, and for some reason — even though they'd talked on the phone multiple times — Stallworth was assigned to keep David Duke safe.

Fortunately, Duke never recognized Stallworth's voice, even when the detective approached the Grand Wizard to let him know that while he disagreed with Duke's philosophy, he would do his best to keep him safe. The two even shook hands, although Stallworth says Duke surreptitiously tried to give him a Klan handshake. But the craziest moment came when Stallworth asked if he could pose for a photo with the national director. Similar to the film, the detective asked "white Ron Stallworth" to take the photo, and as Chuck pressed the button, the real Stallworth put his hand on Duke's shoulder.

Naturally, Duke was furious and tried to snatch away the Polaroid. But that's when Stallworth pulled rank, telling Duke, "If you touch me, I will arrest you for assault of a police officer." The threat worked, and Duke was stunned into submission. Sadly, Stallworth has since lost the photo, but there's no denying he was a great detective and an epic troll.

The time he was almost caught

In the film BlacKkKlansman, Stallworth and Chuck have quite a few close calls with the KKK, but in reality, the racists were too dumb to realize anything was going on. No one ever pulled any guns, and there was never any forced polygraph test. However, there was one moment where Stallworth had to think on his feet to keep the Klan from finding him out.

The first Klansman that Stallworth ever talked to was an organizer named Ken O'Dell. Stallworth spent quite a bit of time pumping O'Dell for information, but on one occasion, the Klansman noticed something strange. Earlier in the day, Chuck had attended a Klan meeting with O'Dell, and then a few hours later, Stallworth paid the Klansman a phone call. So now he was hearing Chuck's voice and Stallworth's voice just a few hours apart, and something didn't add up.

According to Stallworth, when O'Dell heard him over the phone, the racist asked, "What's wrong with your voice?" Forced to improvise, Stallworth began coughing and said that he was dealing with a sinus infection. And just like that, the red alert was over. O'Dell completely bought the story, saying he also got those all the time. That was the closest Stallworth ever came to being exposed.

What the Black Klansman accomplished

Ron Stallworth's investigation into the KKK lasted seven and a half months, and it was so successful that the Klan wanted Stallworth to take over as local organizer. That's when Stallworth's chief said it was time to wrap everything up. Not only did he order the detective to close down the operation, he also wanted Stallworth to destroy all evidence that an investigation had even taken place. But while Stallworth got rid of most of the documents, he kept the membership card signed by David Duke. In fact, he carries it in his wallet to this day.

So what did the Black Klansman accomplish during his investigation? Well, he prevented at least three cross burnings. Whenever he learned the Klan was planning a bonfire, he would send cop cars to the area to scare the crooks away. He discovered where the Klan was hiding its money, he found out the Colorado Springs group had members in both the military and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, and his investigation revealed the Klan was planning on stealing weapons from an army base.

While the movie shows Stallworth preventing the bombing of a civil rights rally, that never actually happened. However, he did discover the Klan was plotting to bomb two gay nightclubs. No arrests were made during the investigation, but Stallworth gathered a ton of intelligence and kept tabs on the Klan's activities for over half a year. On top of all that, you've got to give Stallworth major points for his undercover skills because the Klan never suspected there was a black man in their midst.

Hip-hop's first cop

So what happened to the Black Klansman after his famous investigation? Well, eventually, Ron Stallworth packed his bags and left Colorado Springs for Phoenix, where he worked for the Arizona Criminal Intelligence Systems Agency. Then he wound up in Utah where he became an expert on gangs, kickstarting Salt Lake City's Metro Gang Unit. And it's here that Stallworth was drawn into the world of hip-hop.

Wanting to understand rap music and its connection to gang culture, he plunged himself into the hip-hop community. He even visited Ice Cube at a 1993 performance in Salt Lake City, and the two discussed the rapper's anti-police songs and the motives behind his incendiary lyrics. Stallworth quickly came to appreciate hip-hop music, realizing it was an art form that gave a voice to people who felt like they were being abused by the system. And he quickly became the go-to expert for all things gangsta rap. He went on ABC's Primetime to discuss the death of Tupac Shakur, and he wrote two entire books on gangsta rap. The man even testified in front of Congress on three separate occasions about rap music and gangs in the U.S. As a result, Stallworth picked up a nickname, "hip-ho's first cop," and it's safe to say he's probably the only person in the world who's had friendly conversations with both Ice Cube and David Duke.

The Grand Wizard checks in

Near the end of BlacKkKlansman, Ron Stallworth gets one last jibe at David Duke (pictured above, to the right), calling him to let the Klansman know he was a black cop the whole time. Of course, that conversation never happened in real life. In fact, Duke never knew about the sting operation until 2006, when Stallworth disclosed the investigation to a Utah reporter. The story was covered by news outlets everywhere, and a journalist called Duke to fact-check Stallworth's story. Duke was pretty surprised that he'd been so utterly duped.

Over the next few years, Stallworth would teach community college courses and earn his own degree in criminal justice. It wasn't until 2014 that he would publish his memoir Black Klansman, and it took four more years before Spike Lee turned Stallworth's book into a film. But when the trailer was finally released, Stallworth got a phone call from his old nemesis. After seeing clips of Topher Grace playing him in the trailer, David Duke freaked out and called Ron, asking how he would be portrayed in the upcoming film. The two then had an hour-long conversation, discussing everything from Donald Trump to Thomas Jefferson and slavery. It was the first time the two had talked since the investigation, and in true Stallworth fashion, when he hung up the phone, he says he knew he'd bested the Klansman yet again.