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BlacKkKlansman: History vs. Hollywood

Starring John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace | based on the memoir 'Black Klansman' by Ron Stallworth

John David Washington
Born: July 28, 1984
Los Angeles, California, USA
Ron Stallworth
Born: June 18, 1953
Adam Driver
Born: November 19, 1983
San Diego, California, USA
"Flip Zimmerman"

His real name and identity is unknown. He retired as a sergeant. Named "Chuck" in the book.
Topher Grace
Born: July 12, 1978
New York City, New York, USA
David Duke
Born: July 1, 1950
Birthplace: Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
Corey Hawkins
Born: October 22, 1988
Washington, D.C., USA
Stokely Carmichael
Born: June 29, 1941
Birthplace: Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Death: November 15, 1998, Conakry, Guinea

Questioning the Story:

Was Ron Stallworth really Colorado Springs' first black police detective?

Yes. The BlacKkKlansman true story confirms that in the 1970s Ron Stallworth became the first African-American police officer and detective to work for the Colorado Springs Police Department. He joined the department as a cadet on November 13, 1972. He was sworn in as an officer on June 18, 1974, his 21st birthday.

The real Ron Stallworth as a member of the Colorado Springs Police Department in 1975 (left) and pictured again in 2014 (right), the year his memoir Black Klansman was released. The book became the basis for the Spike Lee movie.

Was Ron Stallworth's first undercover assignment a Stokely Carmichael speaking engagement?

Yes. When the developer of the Black Power movement, Stokely Carmichael, came to town to speak at a local nightclub, the department was worried Carmichael's rhetoric might incite violence. Stallworth attended the event as a crowd member in order to keep an eye on things.

Did Ron Stallworth really infiltrate the KKK?

Yes. In October 1978, African-American detective Ron Stallworth successfully infiltrated the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado Springs, CO. The movie is based on Stallworth's 2014 book Black Klansman, which details his experience. Like in the movie, he initiated contact by responding to a classified ad in the local newspaper. "I was sitting in my office reading the local newspaper," says Stallworth, "saw an ad that said Ku Klux Klan. For information, there was a P.O. Box [address]." He sent a letter with his phone number (In the movie, the ad contains a phone number, not a P.O. Box, which was done to keep the story moving).

In real life, the Klan called him after receiving his letter, and his subsequent communication with the them happened over the phone. When it came time to meet the Klan members face-to-face, he utilized the help of a white undercover narcotics officer (Adam Driver in the movie), who posed as Stallworth for all in-person meetings with the Klan. -KTSM Ron Stallworth Interview

The movie is based on Ron Stallworth's 2014 memoir, originally titled Black Klansman.

How long did the undercover investigation last?

Fact-checking the movie reveals that Detective Ron Stallworth and a white narcotics officer conducted the investigation for approximately nine months. Other undercover officers from the Colorado Springs Police Department and other departments joined the investigation.

Why did Ron Stallworth use his real name when he went undercover?

In researching the BlacKkKlansman true story, we learned that when Stallworth responded via mail to the classified Klan ad in the newspaper, he put his real name on the letter he wrote because he didn't think it would lead to an undercover investigation. "The simple answer is I was not thinking of a future investigation when I mailed the note," he said in his book. "I was seeking a reply, expecting it would be in the form of literature such as a pamphlet or brochure of some kind. All in all I did not believe my efforts would have any traction beyond a few mundane auto-mailed responses."

To convince the Klan he was serious about joining, did he tell them he was upset because his sister was dating a black man?

Yes. This is the story that the real Ron Stallworth said he used to convince the clan of his undercover identity. "Hi, this is Ken [O'Dell], we got your letter. Why do you want to join the Klan?" Stallworth recalled the voice saying on the other end of the phone.

"I said, 'My sister is dating a black man, and every time he puts his filthy black hands on her pure white body, I cringe, I want to do something.' He said, 'You're just the kinda guy we want.'"

During his initial conversation with the KKK, Stallworth also expressed a dislike for minorities and used all the derogatory nicknames he could think of.

Is Stallworth's romantic interest in the movie, Patrice Dumas, based on a real person?

No. In the BlacKkKlansman movie, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) develops a relationship with an activist college student named Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier). Director Spike Lee has said that Patrice is fictional and was inspired by the women of the Black Power Movement. Stallworth did attend a black student event just before the undercover investigation started, but that's where the similarities with real life end. He never met a "pig"-hating student activist whom he had a romance with.

Stallworth's romantic interest in the movie, Patrice (Laura Harrier), is a fictional character created to represent the women of the Black Power Movement.

Is Adam Driver's character based on Ron Stallworth's real-life partner in the investigation?

Yes, but very loosely. The identity of the real officer who posed as the "white" Stallworth has not been revealed. The officer's name was changed for the book and movie. In the Black Klansman book, Stallworth calls him "Chuck." In the movie, he is made Jewish and renamed "Flip Zimmerman." Actor Adam Driver, who is not Jewish in real life, portrays Flip.

Was Ron Stallworth's partner really Jewish?

No. In the movie, Ron Stallworth's partner, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) is accused of being Jewish by the KKK. Flip's entire Jewish heritage in the film is fictional, and so is the lie detector test that the KKK forces him to take. It's a tense moment and Stallworth hurries in to save the day while making sure not to blow the investigation. In the book, Stallworth never mentions that his partner on the case is Jewish. The filmmakers seem to have added this element to the movie so that Flip has "skin in the game," as Stallworth (John David Washington) says in the film.

The real "Flip Zimmerman," Ron Stallworth's partner on the undercover assignment, was not Jewish in real life.

Did Ron Stallworth become the leader of a local chapter of the KKK?

No. Like in the movie, Stallworth was nominated to become the local organizer for the Colorado Springs chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. However, in real life, it was at this point that the chief panicked and immediately shut down the investigation. Stallworth believes that the chief was worried about the department's public image and did not want it to come out that his officers had ties to the KKK.

Did Ron Stallworth really have conversations with David Duke, the National Director of the KKK?

Yes. "[The Colorado Springs chapter] was under the auspices of David Duke's Invisible Empire," Stallworth told NPR. "I had mailed in my application, and after I didn't receive any response in about a two, three week period, I decided to go directly to the horse's mouth, so to speak, and I called David Duke directly down in New Orleans. And the day I called, lo and behold, he answered the phone." Duke told Stallworth that there was a delay in processing applications and that he would personally see that Stallworth's application was processed and sent back to him. It wasn't long before Stallworth received his Certificate of Citizenship in the KKK's Invisible Empire (pictured below), which was signed by David Duke. Stallworth says that he continued to talk to Klan leader David Duke "off and on during the course of [the] investigation."

Ron Stallworth's 1979 Ku Klux Klan Certificate of Citizenship in the KKK's Invisible Empire was personally signed by Grand Wizard David Duke.

During one of their phone conversations, Stallworth asked David Duke, "Aren't you afraid of an undercover police officer infiltrating your organization or maybe a black man calling you up and pretending to be white?" Duke told Stallworth that he wasn't fearful of that because he could always tell when he was talking to a black person (Duke used the N word). Like in the movie, the one time Stallworth's voice was challenged, he said he had a sinus infection.

Actor Topher Grace (left) portrays KKK Grand Wizard David Duke (right) in the BlacKkKlansman movie.

Did Detective Ron Stallworth ever make face-to-face contact with the KKK?

No. Fact-checking the BlacKkKlansman film reveals that Stallworth did not make face-to-face contact with the KKK, at least not as part of the undercover operation. His partner on the case ("Flip" in the movie) was the only one who made in-person contact with the KKK, posing as the "white" Stallworth. Therefore, his partner, who wore a wire, assumed most of the risk.

Did Ron Stallworth and KKK leader David Duke meet in person?

Yes, but the encounter wasn't part of Stallworth's undercover work. The BlacKkKlansman true story supports what's seen in the movie. Stallworth's chief assigned him to protect David Duke during Duke's January 10, 1979 visit to Colorado Springs. "That's fine," said Duke after Stallworth introduced himself. "I appreciate the police department's efforts. Thank you." Stallworth joined Duke and his fellow Klan members at a local steakhouse for lunch. Unlike the movie, it was a regular restaurant and Duke's visit wasn't part of any ceremony. Stallworth's partner on the undercover case, portrayed by Adam Driver in the movie, was posing as the "white" Stallworth at the time and was present at the lunch. During the meal, Stallworth, who had brought a Polaroid camera, asked Duke for a favor.

"Mr. Duke, no one will ever believe me if I tell them I was your bodyguard. Would you mind taking a picture with me?" Duke agreed and Stallworth's partner, who was working undercover, took the picture. Stallworth, who stood between Duke and another Klansman, the Grand Dragon of Colorado, placed his arms around their shoulders at the last minute, just before his partner snapped the picture. Duke lunged for the picture but Stallworth was "a split second faster" and got to the photo first. Duke reached toward Stallworth but Stallworth warned him, "If you touch me, I’ll arrest you for assault on a police officer. That’s worth about five years in prison. DON’T DO IT!" Duke, furious, stepped back. Unfortunately, the photo has since been lost.

According to Stallworth, he really did sneak his arm around David Duke and another Klan member in a photo, which has since been lost.

How successful was Ron Stallworth's undercover case?

For roughly nine months, Stallworth and his partner gathered intelligence on the KKK, thwarted several cross burnings and rallies, and gained the trust of KKK leaders, including KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. They also learned the identities of various KKK members, some of whom held positions in the military. Two held sensitive positions at NORAD. Stallworth was told by officials that the two NORAD men were going to be reassigned to remote locations akin to the North Pole or Greenland. -NPR

Stallworth says that the Klansmen also talked about bombing the two gay bars that existed in Colorado Springs at the time and stealing automatic weapons from Fort Carson. Unlike the movie, no actual terrorist attacks were ever attempted. Walter and his band of KKK goons are fictitious.

Though the nine month operation yielded no arrests, it was considered a success. “As a result of our combined effort, no parent of a black or other minority child had to explain why an 18-foot cross was seen burning,” he wrote in his book. “No child in the city limits had to experience firsthand the fear brought on by this act of terror.”

Why was the undercover investigation stopped?

Unlike the film, the investigation wasn't stopped because an ex-con discovered Flip's identity, or a bombing made things too risky for the department. It was stopped because Ron Stallworth's chief was worried about the police department having ties to the KKK and what that could mean for the department's public image if it got out. This hesitation within the department is accurately conveyed in the movie.

Did Ron Stallworth ever reveal the truth to clan leader David Duke?

No. The real-life case didn't have as satisfying of an ending as the movie. Stallworth never revealed his true identity to David Duke over the phone. In fact, he never talked about the assignment until his book was published in 2014. The phone reveal is a sock-it-to-him moment in the movie, especially since Duke had previously bragged to Stallworth that he could always tell when he was talking to a black man (which he did in real life too).

Another aspect of the movie's ending that differs from reality is Stallworth throwing away his KKK membership card the first chance he gets. In real life, he framed it as a memento from the investigation. His actual card is pictured below.

Did actor John David Washington meet the real Ron Stallworth?

Yes. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, John David Washington recalled seeing Ron Stallworth's Ku Klux Klan membership card during their meeting. "He passed the card around for us to see and feel and it kind of just brought truth to everything he said, a validation."

Ron Stallworth's 1979 Ku Klux Klan membership card.

Does the real Ron Stallworth think that race has changed in America since the days when he infiltrated the KKK?

No. "Let me put it this way, it hasn't changed," he told NPR. "To me, race is the single most divisive factor affecting American society. It's an issue that we are afraid of, that we shy away from; and quite frankly, it amuses me that we are so sensitive to the issue."

Is John David Washington (the actor who plays Ron Stallworth) related to Denzel Washington?

Yes. John David Washington (pictured below with the real Ron Stallworth) is Denzel Washington's eldest son. He has previously starred in HBO's Ballers TV series alongside Dwayne Johnson. When he was young he had a small part in Spike Lee's 1992 film Malcom X, which saw his father in the title role.

Actor John David Washington (left) poses with Ron Stallworth (right).

Ron Stallworth Interview & Related BlacKkKlansman Videos

Further investigate the BlacKkKlansman true story by watching the interview with the real Ron Stallworth below.