About 25 years ago, Ron Stallworth was asked to lead the Ku Klux Klan chapter in Colorado Springs.
Problem was, the outgoing Klan leader didn't know that Sgt. Ron Stallworth, Ret. is black.
"He asked me to take over the lead because I was a good, loyal Klansman," said Stallworth, who had been in constant phone contact with the Klan leader while leading a yearlong Colorado Springs police investigation into the Klan.
Stallworth later moved to Utah, where he recently retired after nearly 20 years as an investigator for the Utah Department of Public Safety. He says he's amazed that no one ever caught on to the investigation he led starting in 1979. After he was offered Klan leadership, he quietly disappeared.
As a memento Stallworth still carries his Klan membership card — signed by David Duke.
"It was one of the most fun" investigations, he said. "Everybody said it couldn't be done."
Stallworth communicated with Klan leaders using the telephone. A white officer posing as Stallworth went to the meetings.
"The challenge for me was to maintain the conversation flow," Stallworth said. At the same time, Stallworth also led an undercover investigation into the Progressive Labor Party, a communist group that protested at Klan rallies.
Stallworth, of Layton, worked 30 years in law enforcement in four states. Stallworth's undercover experience and research led him to become a nationally known expert on gang culture.
He calls the Klan investigation "one of the most significant investigations I was ever involved in because of the scope and the magnitude of how it unfolded."
The investigation revealed that Klan members were in the military, including two at NORAD who controlled the triggers for nuclear weapons.
"I was told they were being reassigned to somewhere like the North Pole or Greenland," Stallworth said.
The Klan investigation isn't the only time Stallworth has been mistaken for a white guy.
He's been contacted by academics about his "scholarly research" on gangs. One such academic "said he was so impressed that a white Mormon in Utah could write such an impressive work on black gang culture."
Stallworth said he laughed and explained that not only is he not white or Mormon, he started his college career in 1971 and remains about 2 1/2 years shy of his bachelor's degree.
Stallworth started to work on gang activity for the Utah Department of Public Safety in the late 1980s. He wrote a report that led to the formation of Utah's first gang task force — the Gang Narcotics Intelligence Unit that involved the Utah Division of Investigation and the Salt Lake City Police Department.
"Based on what was going on at the time, I knew about the L.A. gang problem," he said. Utah gang suspects were "telling us they were Crips from California."
Stallworth said of his work in Utah, it's his investigation of gangs that he's most proud of.
"It's had a lasting impact, first and foremost, on law enforcement," he said.
Wes McBride, president of the California Gang Investigators Association and retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, said about 15 years ago he "heard about this guy in Salt Lake who was becoming an expert" in gangsta rap music. So, he invited Stallworth to speak on the topic. It was the first of a series of lectures Stallworth gave on street-gang culture.
"I don't know that any of us ever listened to it," McBride said. "Where he was instrumental with us was pointing out to listen to the words, to listen to what these gangsters were saying."