The Ku Klux Klan was a shadow of its former self by the time Ron Stallworth enlisted.
Back in the 1920s and '30s, the five-term Mayor of Denver was a Klan member, as were the governor and several other state officials. But the once-ubiquitous white supremacist group had fallen far below the radar by the time police detective Stallworth spotted a four-line classified in a Colorado Springs newspaper:
Ku Klux Klan
For Information Contact
P.O. Box 4771
Security, CO, 80230
The year was 1979, and Stallworth was Colorado Springs' first black detective. From there, he would go on to become the KKK's first black infiltrator.
The main hurdle, of course, was that white supremacist groups don't welcome black people into their ranks. So for in-person meetings, a colleague he calls "the white Ron Stallworth" would pose as him, wearing a wireless body transmitter so that he could listen in.
The ruse worked well, says Stallworth, so much so that he began having twice-weekly phone conversations with KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. He also blew the whistle on four planned cross-burnings, and was ultimately asked to become leader of the local chapter.
"I wanted to take the investigation as far as we could go with it," says the retired detective by phone from Utah, where he now lives. "But I was ordered to end it by the chief."
Stallworth was told the investigation would embarrass the department, if the public found out about it; he was then ordered to shred all pertinent documents. That night, he says, a cross was burned outside a black-owned nightclub.
Some 35 years later, Stallworth believes that, other than the names and faces, little has changed.
"I honestly don't understand how people can say they're supporters of Donald Trump," he says, likening the current situation to the rise of Hitler and Mussolini after World War I. The hatred of Obama, the name-calling and finger-pointing, is something that's been encouraged by the Republican Party — subtly in some cases, overtly in others. And now it's out of control, they can't get a handle on it.
"Trump is the natural outgrowth of that," he adds. "If the Republican party denies him the nomination, my personal opinion is that all hell will break loose. And I think his ego is such that he'll be coordinating that movement with his supporters."
It's worth noting that Stallworth was always an equal-opportunity infiltrator. In addition to his Klan investigation, he also went undercover with a Communist militant group called the Progressive Labor Party.
"Violence is violence, I don't care what the motivation is," he says. "If the PLP side preached non-violence, then I could have lived with it. But their whole thing was political confrontation against any and everybody in order to stop the KKK."
That, too, continues. The PLP's website currently has a full page devoted to the violent showdown between Klan marchers and counter-protesters in Orange County. The headline at the top reads:
"NO FREE SPEECH FOR RACISTS!
ANTI-RACISTS BATTLE KKK, KKKOPS"
The PLP didn't believe that the KKK had the right to exist," says Stallworth. "But if you believe in the Constitution, which I do, then you have to observe their right to say what they say. Because if you shut them down, then you have to shut everybody down."
As serious as Stallworth can be, a far more mischievous side of his personality comes through in the story he tells of actually meeting David Duke up close and in person.
At the height of the investigation, the Klan leader had scheduled a meeting with the local Colorado Springs chapter. Stallworth, who'd been assigned as his police bodyguard, met Duke at the airport and told him he was there to protect him from death threats. He then asked Duke and Colorado's KKK leader Fred Wilkens to pose with him for a commemorative photograph.
Against all expectations, the bemused Klansmen agreed. Stallworth handed his Polaroid camera to a fellow detective, and then stood between the two Klansmen, putting his arms around their shoulders. Duke pulled away immediately, saying he could not appear in a photo like that.
Stallworth said he understood, and the three resumed their positions. The detective stood with his hands clasped in front of him, grinned broadly as they awaited the count of three, then threw his arms around the two startled Klan leaders at the last second.
A furious Duke rushed for the camera, but Stallworth got to it first. He warned Duke that, if he touched him, he'd spend five years in jail for assaulting a police office. Duke refused to acknowledge his presence for the remainder of the trip.
Today, Stallworth is still proud of the stunt, even though its sole purpose was to get a rise out of Duke. Asked if the incident was typical of his sense of humor, he responds in the same measured tones he's used throughout our interview.
"Anybody who knows me," he says, "knows I like to fuck with people."
Ron Stallworth's "Black Klansman" is available from policeandfirepublishing.com as well as Amazon, Nook, and Kindle.