How Spike Lee Whitewashed History in Blakkklansman

(2018 Focus Features LLC)

The newest Spike Lee Joint is branded as a true story. But this isn’t the case. It’s characters are real people but the successes of the Colorado Springs PD come more from Hollywood creativity than historical fact.

The truth is, this movie distorts history and whitewashes one of the darkest periods in our governments history.

In the movie, they show the harmless surveillance of a Stokely Carmichael rally and the heroic takedown of the KKK. Both show an innocent, bordering on positive, portrayal of the J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO initiative, which is now widely criticized.

The movie’s depictions of these kinds of programs are at best inaccurate and at worst deceitful.

Ron Stallworth was a real police officer and he did help the Colorado Spring Police Department infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan.

But nowhere in Ron Stallworth’s book is there any mention of Stallworth stopping any bombing or assassination attempt. There is also nothing to show that he ever helped to arrest a racist police officer in his department.

The officer’s biggest triumphs in the movie were all fictional.

Additionally, it’s has been shown that Stallworth actually spent 3 years undercover in Black Nationalist organizations, not one night.

The idea that in these type of infiltrations of the Black Panther Party and the KKK, police stopped or prevented violence is inconsistent with historical record.

Often they incited or participated in that violence themselves.

Ron Stallworth was not the only police officer to successfully infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. But the story of Gary Thomas Rowe’s time in the Ku Klux Klan ended very differently.

This undercover FBI agent has blood on his hands from some of the most violent days of the Civil Rights Movement.

Image result for gary thomas rowe freedom riders
Rowe (center-right) assaults a man while the mob watches on. (Oxford University Press)

In 1961, when a group of Freedom Riders were attacked in Birmingham, a journalist photographed the crowd. The picture above shows Rowe and others beating a Black man with bats and other weapons as the mob watches on.

Later, he admitted to fatally shooting a Black man in a 1963 riot and is also suspected of involvement in several bombings, including the infamous attack on the 16th Street Baptist Church which killed 4 little girls.

But, the highlight of Rowe’s time as a undercover Klansman came when he shot Viola Liuzzo in the head as she drove home from the March from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. If her name sounds familiar, it’s because she was the only white woman killed during the Civil Rights Movement.

Liuzzo car after being shot by Rowe and 3 other Klansmen

Unfortunately, efforts on behalf of police and the FBI to infiltrate the KKK and Black “extremist” groups often looked more like Gary Rowe than Spike Lee’s depiction of Ron Stallworth.

The movie’s casual brush over of undercover surveillance of Stokely Carmichael is a dismissal of all the harm done to the black community by COINTELPRO.

Nowhere in history does an undercover agent fall for the Angela Davis-Kathleen Cleaver hybrid that Spike Lee created in Patrice Dumas. Ron Stallworth never had to prove his loyalty to the cause despite being a police officer because at this time he was dating his high school sweetheart, now his wife.

History shows us far more examples of undercover agents harassing, intimidating, assaulting and assassinating Black leaders.

From COINTELPRO and J. Edgar Hoover’s obsession with preventing the rise of a “Black Messiah” to William O’Neal’s role in the gruesome assassination of Fred Hampton as he lay asleep next to his pregnant girlfriend, there is no shortage of evidence to show the evil done by police during these operations.

Blakkklansman is a watered down account of of the history of police involvement with the Civil Rights Movement.

This movie only further contributes to the distorted historiography of COINTELPRO, the Black Power Movement and the FBI.

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