“BlacKkKlansman” is one of those based-on-a-true-story films in which many of the most outrageous events really happened. Perhaps the best example of this is the fact that two members of NORAD — the North American Air Defense Command — really were members of the Ku Klux Klan, according to the book on which the film is based.
Americans may know NORAD best for the NORAD Santa Tracker. Every Christmas Eve, NORAD tells children where in the skies they have the best chance of seeing Santa’s sled and reindeer. But that’s just a cute bit of public relations. NORAD’s main job is “aerospace warning and aerospace control for North America,” which includes “the detection, validation, and warning of attack against North America whether by aircraft, missiles, or space vehicles, through mutual support arrangements with other commands.”
In the 1970s, when “BlacKkKlansman” takes place, that meant protecting the Cold War skies from Soviet nukes. It was, in other words, a supremely important job, one that would hopefully employ only the best and most capable people in America. Unfortunately, it also included two members of a white-supremacist terror group.
Ron Stallworth, the black detective who is portrayed in the film by John David Washington, includes a trip to NORAD in “Black Klansman,” his memoir about infiltrating the KKK with the help of a telephone and a white partner. (His book’s title, you’ll note, is slightly different than the title of Spike Lee’s film. Also, this is the point in our story where we recommend you read “Black Klansman,” because it’s great. And because what follows spoils one of the most fascinating chapters in the book.)
Stallworth’s visit to NORAD was a huge deal, and a privilege rarely extended to people who were not part of its mission. It was even more dramatic than the scenes in the film that deal with the two NORAD Klansmen.
In the film “BlacKkKlansman,” Stallworth is informed that two of the Klansmen he has been monitoring work at NORAD, which makes the powerful point that white supremacists are working at even the most secure levels of the U.S. government.
The book “Black Klansman” goes deeper. Stallworth writes that on Jan. 14, 1979, he received a visit from two agents of the Peterson Air Force Base Office of Special Investigations. The OSI agents told him they had heard about his “interesting” investigation of the Klan in Colorado. He wrote that he was surprised they were aware of it, since he had not discussed it “with anyone except those with an absolute need to know.”
He told them about how he had infiltrated the Klan over the phone and with help from a white detective named Chuck, who pretended to be Ron when he needed to meet with Klansmen in person. (In the film, Chuck is renamed Flip Zimmerman and is played by Adam Driver.)
After I told them the story and got the usual laughter at the hoax we were pulling on the Klan, the OSI agents got serious. They asked if they could see my investigation casebook and the list of names of those Klan members with a military connection. … One of them ran his index finger down the list of names and then stopped. He looked up at me and asked if I could take a ride with them.
Their destination — which the agents refused to reveal — was Cheyenne Mountain, home of NORAD. “At this realization and the sight of the twenty-five-ton blast doors that protect the main entrance to the tunnel of the hollowed-out mountain complex, I began smiling like a kid in a candy store,” Stallworth writes.
He was taken to a deputy commander, a black colonel, and showed him the KKK membership card he had procured during his investigation. Then he showed the colonel his casebook with the list of names. Finally, someone told Stallworth exactly what was going on.
“The OSI agents stated that two of the names on my list, which were never identified to me, were NORAD personnel with top-security-clearance level status,” Stallworth said. “The agents indicated that the Pentagon viewed their activity as having national security implications and that individuals such as these two would not be tolerated.”
They were transferred to the funniest place possible, given NORAD’s history. Stallworth wrote: “According to the OSI agents, the two Klansmen would be transferred by the end of the day to the ‘North Pole,’ the farthest northern military installation in the U.S. command.”
There’s no word on whether they spent the remainder of their careers tracking Santa.