I’ve seen the movie at the cinema at the start of last year and I was absolutely enthralled with the concept. A black man joining one of the most bigoted and uncultured and ignorant cult there is? The KKK? That must be a good read!
I was thoroughly disappointed in the book! Read in a dull voice with dry facts and “I did this and I did that” type of sentences, I was soon looking to get some dialogue, a bit of action, something! Anything!
The story is pretty much the same as the movie:
As the department’s first black detective, Ron Stallworth thought it might be interesting to see what would come from answering that ad. Figuring on a few pamphlets, maybe a brochure or leaflet, he wrote a note to the P.O. Box, using his real name and asking for promised information. To this day, he’s still not sure why he used his name, and not one of his undercover aliases.
On November 1, 1978, he received a call on the department’s undercover line.
The caller identified himself as a “local organizer” of the Ku Klux Klan who was trying to raise membership there in Colorado Springs. He asked Stallworth several questions, then invited him to meet in person; they agreed upon a time and, once they hung up, Stallworth swung into action.
He asked for permission to proceed and for a colleague’s help, but was denied; sure that this could be a major matter, he went to higher authorities. He already had in mind a sharp colleague who was white and could “be” Stallworth when Stallworth needed to attend Klan events… because the real Ron Stallworth, remember, is a black man.
For the next ten weeks or so, Stallworth and his co-detective, Chuck, worked their way into and through the Klan. They attended rallies and meetings, thwarted cross-burnings, and Stallworth spoke many times with Grand Wizard David Duke. There was certainly danger in what he’d done but mostly, because of the amateurishness of the organization he’d infiltrated and the mistaken tenants its leaders held, it was a lesson in absurdity.
“It was,” says Stallworth, “as if Dennis the Menace were running a hate group.”
The Good Bits:
The story was good and the description of how he was initially treated by his policemen peers was pretty accurate for the time period and was pretty funny at points. The idiocy of the KKK members was pretty funny too. Where this book excels is in exposing what a hack many of these hate groups are/were in the 1970s. Advertising their meetings in the newspaper? David Duke answering the national headquarters phone line?
Instead of painting the KKK as pure evil, Stallworth looks at the complexity of the group and what drives its members towards heinous acts and an irrational aversion to non-whites and multiculturalism. As he gets closer to Grand Wizard David Duke, his position becomes even more endangered of being discovered.
The Bad Bits:
There were so many abbreviated groups that after a while I stopped caring which group was on what side. I also hated how every so often the author had to remind the reader how he was the one in charge of the investigation by parenthesizing that he was the one the KKK members were talking to, even when some of the conversations were with his partner playing him undercover. He didn’t need to keep reminding me that it was him running the show.
Stallworth’s lengthy charade amounted amounted to little more than a funny story and speculation regarding crimes that may have been prevented. He himself admits that the tangible effects of this operation were tenuous at best.
It’s a dry read and I found myself meandering over course of the book. The whole book comprised of the Colorado chapter and he didn’t give the insight of the KKK