The following interview with Steamshovel editor Kenn Thomas
appeared in Immerse, a techno/ambient/atmospherica/ industrial/noise/jazz/electronics/
forteana/graphics/film/print zine produced
in the UK. The issue (003) also included an interview with Saucer
Smear's James "It was a Fugo balloon; no it was a Mogul balloon" Moseley
and gives some attention to Philip "'twasn't nothin'" Klass. Visit Immerse
Steamshovel Press is the bible of conspiracy theory. Kenn Thomas
is the editor of this quarterly collection of snapshots from the dark side of reality.
From the JFK assassination and Watergate to Area 51 and the Octopus
cabal, Steamshovel is the acknowledged authority.
A Need To Know
Kenn began his quest for the truth, or at least a plausible version of it, at the ripe old age
of five. Although he certainly wasn't conscious of the fact, something happened which
would shape his perceptions for years to come. "When I was five years old they shot JFK!
It guaranteed that one of my strongest early memories always would be of conspiracy. In a
conscious way, though, as a reader and student of Conspiracy, the best I can track it is
back to comedian Lenny Bruce. My early abiding interest in Bruce's comedy led me to
Paul Krassner's The Realist (Krassner ghosted Bruce's autobiography), and from that I
learned about the work of Mae Brussell, the intellectual foremother of conspiracy research
in the US."
Such synchronicity still lends a guiding hand. "Recently, while looking at my copy of
Bruce's 1957 samizdat booklet, Stamp Help Out!, I noticed reference to Wilhelm Reich, which I thought was
rather far out. In 1957 Reich was embroiled in his final battle with the Con, and it killed
him. Bruce eventually came to understand that his own life was ruined by a police conspiracy."
Kenn's abiding interests in both hidden history and the works of the 'beat' generation
of Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs led to the first early attempts at formulating a
fanzine of sorts.
"Steamshovel began as a small newsletter circulated primarily to convince
book publishers to send review copies of books. It had a secondary
purpose of presenting an interview with Ram Dass I conducted that I was unable
to get published elsewhere. This story is recounted in the introduction to the
Steamshovel back issue anthology, Popular Alienation.
"Like most writers, I resent the predicament of having to do work without
guarantee that it will be published and paid for, so Steamshovel became
my outlet for writing that I didn't already have pre-sold. At the time, I worked
as the rock music critic for a daily newspaper and was getting a lot of things
published in local and regional newspapers and magazines. I began to notice,
however, that the more I wrote about things that interested me, the less I had
to say in the mainstream forum."
Genesis Of An Inquiring Mind
The early issues of Steamshovel included an interview with Imamu Amiri Baraka and it
was Baraka's connection with the New York branch of the Fair Play For Cuba
Committee, of which Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole member of the New Orleans
chapter, which propelled Steamshovel in a more conspiracy driven
"By the time of the third issue of Steamshovel, Mae Brussell had died and Bob Banner, who published a quality
conzine called Critique, abandoned his effort. Conspiracy culture seemed waning. This
happened in the late 1980s: factional fighting beset Mae Brussell's admirers; Oliver Stone's
JFK movie and that damned X-Files show were well into the future; even the impact of the
Internet had not yet been felt fully.
"In a panic, I published a call for papers on conspiracy topics for publication in the following
issue. At the time also, I developed a friendship with someone who had access to
printing equipment. With all the conspiracy-related articles and the free printing,
Steamshovel number four became the first magazine-sized issue. Money
from selling that issue paid for the subsequent issues and I started doing the
legwork to get distribution.
"The current issue of Steamshovel has an interview with the late great Tim Leary and
reproduces a Catholic Charities report on Neal Cassady. So that 'beatnik' thing
remains an important part of the magazine. There's even a newsclipping reproduction
I took from a New Orleans paper in the 1960s: Do Newspaper Boys Grow Up To
Be Beatniks? 'Beatnik' is a vague concept to begin with--it defines everybody from
Woody Guthrie to John Lilly-- (it's actually a red smear, as in 'Sputnik') and difficult to
measure. The only thing the New Orleans paper could say was that you could hardly call
Bob Hope one. This new Steamshovel also has a nine-page article on David
Ferrie, Lee Harvey Oswald's albino pilot buddy, who lived a 'beatnik' lifestyle."
The Conspirators' Hierarchy
Along the way Kenn has been aided by many in the loose knit research community, most
of whom have been published in Steamshovel's pages. Many have become close colleagues,
one such gentleman being the prolific author Jim Keith, an Immerse icon and penman of
classics like Secret & Suppressed, Casebook On Alternative 3, Black Helicopters Over
America and OKBOMB.
"I met Jim Keith in the flesh first in Atlanta, Georgia at the Phenomicon conference. I knew
of him previously from his zine Dharma Combat, which published many interesting writers
from the marginals arena, including G. J. Krupey, Wayne Henderson and X. Sharks
DeSpot, all of whom later wrote for Steamshovel. After the Heaven's Gate deaths, I pointed
out to Keith that one of the dead, someone named Darwin Lee Phillips, previously played
with a rock band called Dharma Combat. Keith remembered that he gave permission for
the band to use the name. It's possible that Phillips found out about the Heaven's Gate
group through its ad in Steamshovel #9. That makes Steamshovel as guilty as the Hale-Bopp
comet for that Heaven's Gate disaster!"
Another well known comrade in arms has been Jim Martin of the mail order Flatland
Books. "I think I attracted Jim Martin's attention with an article on Reich in
Steamshovel #2. Martin had a tremendous insight for seeing something of
value in Steamshovel as it looked back then. If I had thought of his Flatland
book service at the time, I would have felt (there was) less of a threat to the kind
of marginals/conspiracy material I thought was disappearing and may
not have developed Steamshovel into a zine. He gave tremendous guidance
on what to do and how to do it, from his experience as a printer and bookseller,
and Flatland remains one of the best places to find this stuff."
Economics And The Con
Even with such assistance from the researchers themselves, Steamshovelis still plagued by
the economics of magazine publication, something Immerse is only too aware
"Both subscriptions and news stand sales rise with each issue and I have a hard time
holding on to back issue stock, even with the PopAlien anthology.
Unfortunately, Steamshovel's chief distributor, Fine
Print, just declared bankruptcy. The thousands of dollars it owes Steamshovel appear
somewhere at the bottom of a list of 2200 creditors and Steamshovel may never see the
money. That is currently slowing down production of the next issue considerably. Zine
distributors are notoriously unreliable business partners. Even when they do what they're
supposed to do, they have unfair returns policies and sales practices that I'm told are
rooted in the Mafia. I always am forced to find a book project or hit the lecture trail just
to raise money to produce the new issue. Zine economics are so bizarre that even
success does not guarantee future success."
Steamshovel's editor has been involved in several book projects. The previously mentioned
Popular Alienation collected together the contents of most of the back issues, albeit devoid
of ad copy (so if you want to see the advertisement for the Heavens Gate suicide cult
you'll have to chase down a copy of #9). Recent titles include NASA, Nazis & JFK:
The Torbitt Document and The Octopus: Secret Government And The Death Of Danny
Casolaro. The book on Casolaro's research, co-authored with Jim Keith, has ensured some
recent publicity as has the phenomenal success of 'conspiracy as soap opera' television
programmes like The X Files and Dark Skies.
"The media profile has increased a lot recently due to the publication of The Octopus.
I'm doing a lot of print and radio promotion for that. It covers the case of Danny Casolaro,
who died under mysterious circumstances while he was investigating the Justice
Department theft of the PROMIS computer software, the Inslaw case.
"Casolaro was waiting for the book contract to come forward, with all that he knew, if he
had kept a larger media profile, he may not have suffered his fate. Crossfire, a popular cable
news program here, wanted to have me on in the wake of Heaven's Gate, but I was busy
visiting David Hatcher Childress's clubhouse outside of Chicago, looking actually to meet
up with Nexuspublisher Duncan Roads who never showed. Jonathan Vankin,
author of 60 Greatest Conspiracies, did make that program, however, but
they changed his title from the derisive 'conspiracy theorist' to 'internet researcher', the
"The major media always warps things into unrecognisable dimensions. The CBS program
60 Minutes wasted an hour and a half of Vankin's time with an interview
for a feature that only briefly flashed his website. In recent weeks I have talked
to producers from two British documentary teams, one person from the Discovery
channel, and someone else from an HBO special on the making of Mel Gibson's
'Conspiracy Theory' movie. I doubt if any of that will amount to substantial publicity for
The new edition of the Torbitt document which Kenn has worked on has also recently
been published, under the title NASA, Nazis & JFK. For the uninitiated, The Torbitt
document was a manuscript written by a Texan lawyer under the pseudonym of William
Torbitt and which claimed to illuminate the inside workings of the military-industrial cabal
who may have murdered JFK. We asked for Kenn's comments on this seminal document.
"The second printing of NASA, Nazis & JFK, which is the title for the edition
of the Torbitt that I annotated and introduced for Adventures Unlimited Press includes an
afterward by Len Bracken making the case that it might be Soviet disinformation. My
annotations were designed to emphasise what the Torbitt has to say about the Paperclip
Nazi role in the assassination, which is certainly not the main point of the document.
"Martin Cannon and Lobster editor Robin Ramsay have both complained that
there doesn't seem to be any independent verification for the existence of Defense
Industrial Security Command (DISC), the police agency that the Torbitt holds out as
culpable in the assassination. I have argued that veteran researcher Penn Jones wrote
about DISC (although his source may have been Torbitt); that a lawsuit was filed in
California over a call made by Oswald to a DISC agent in Raleigh, North Carolina; that the
address of the agency's headquarters should be listed in the city directory of Columbus,
Ohio from 1963; and that (famed JFK researcher, John) Judge connected the group to
Kerr-McGee and the Karen Silkwood murder. Look it up in the current DC phone book
and you'll find something called the Director of Industrial Security-Capital Region, which
basically retains the DISC acronym. So it's real. I think the best thing about the Torbitt is
the view it presents of transnational corporations and how intelligence services work for
them and not the country they ostensibly represent."
Kenn is working on two new projects as well as attempting to get the next issue of
Steamshovel together. "I am currently annotating and writing substantive
introductory notes to Were We Controlled? by Lincoln Lawrence, a classic on
mind control technology to be published this summer by David Hatcher Childress'
Adventures Unlimited Press. The other is a book on the Maury Island incident, the first
UFO sighting of the modern lore. This book will be based on correspondence by one of
those involved, Fred Crisman, who also is suspected of being one of the tramps in the
railroad yard at Dealy Plaza on assassination day.
"At one time, Crisman had Marshall Riconosciuto as a business partner, whose son is
Michael Riconosciuto, the chief informant in the Casolaro case. So that promises to be a
fascinating look at conspiracies spanning the generations. IllumiNet will publish that within
the next six months, in time for the 50th anniversary of the incident."
Steamshovelhave followed the trend in establishing a site on the world wide
web but Kenn is a little dubious about the often heard suggestion that electronic
publishing will replace the printing press.
"I have noticed a pattern common with many websites: an initial enthusiasm where
changes and updates are made often and then a tremendous drop off. Like putting up a
billboard and walking away. Steamshovel has a link to a site that shows the
word 'Shit!' lit up in the windows of a college building from a photo taken on the night of
the Kennedy assassination. That site has been up there unchanged for three
years. The Steamshovel site includes a column called The Latest
Word containing material that never appears in the magazine. I change it often,
but not as often as I would like. It's difficult to make that work pay, so the energy goes
into work that keeps the magazine alive. Steamshovel will never become all-
electronic. If I get to the point where I can change The Latest Wordcolumn
every week, I expect to issue a challenge to other conspiracy websites to do the same.
The Steamshovel website, by the way, is at http://www.umsl.edu/~skthoma"