The Conspiracist

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 at

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 direction. "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 of. "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."

The Octopus

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 new bugaboo. "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 Steamshovel."


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."

E. Conspiracy

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" --more--