The typical route to becoming a CIA agent involves a four-year bachelor’s degree, a year-long application process, and specialized training at the Sherman Kent School for Intelligence Analysis, an offshoot of the bluntly named CIA University. But for those in search of a shortcut, there’s Kevin Shipp’s Patreon.
At an infomercial-low price, Shipp—a born-again conspiracy theorist who describes himself as “the only CIA officer in history to publicly expose government illegal activity and cover up, stand up against the state secrets privilege at great personal risk, and build a secret code in the manuscript of his book”—claims to offer a window into the agency’s inner workings.
“I call myself a recovering CIA officer,” Shipp wrote to The Daily Beast, with a smiling-face emoji (he did not respond to further requests for an interview). And he did work at the CIA, nearly 20 years ago. The “government illegal activity” he exposed was the presence of toxic mold in his Army-owned house at Camp Stanley in Texas, which he blamed for somehow destroying his marriage. Shipp quit the agency in 2002 after being accused of using a government credit card for personal expenses, according to The New York Times. (Shipp claimed a supervisor had approved the purchases and that he repaid the money). These days, buoyed in part by an appearance in the viral/completely bonkers QAnon conspiracy movie Out of Shadows, Shipp peddles baseless conspiracies about his former workplace—overlooking many legitimate ones, like orchestrating torture by proxy or backing right-wing coups in Latin America—while dining out on its credentials.
Shipp calls the lowest tier on his Patreon the “Shadow Government/Deep State Exposed.” For $5 a month, he offers two “intro” courses and a selection of his punditry—webcam videos dressed up with CIA logos, operative jargon, and serious-sounding acronyms: the Politically Incorrect News Analysis (aka “PINA”) and the Shipp Intelligence Report (codenamed “SIR”). Upgrade to $10 a month—the “Prepper-Off-The-Grid” tier—and Shipp will explain how he moved to an “off-the-grid farm in the American southeast,” undetectable even by satellite, and offers techniques on “living free from the ‘system.’” But the real heads, who shell out $25 each month, get “Advanced Courses: From a CIA officer.” These “cutting edge courses designed from Kevin Shipp’s CIA operational and training background” (his words) include “Surveillance Detection,” “How To Spot a Liar,” and “Counter Terrorism.” An extra $5 a month gets you “Advanced Protective Operations for VIP protection details.” “This is the Crown Jewel of the program,” Shipp says. There’s also a Discord.
The courses are incredibly light on actual technique. Though Shipp warns his patrons the intel is “sensitive” and not to be shared, he concedes that everything is unclassified and open source. From his desk lined with illegible accolades and bald eagle figurines, Shipp walks patrons through PowerPoint presentations on various topics, each as advanced as a Wikipedia entry. His insights into protective operations include “situational awareness”; on lie-detection, “facial cues.” In “Surveillance Detection,” he urges his followers to maintain a four-tier level of “alertness”: White, “Calm” or Yellow, Orange, and Red. White, he says, is the level one maintains when watching TV, while “Calm” or Yellow ratchets it up a notch, for when “out in public or overseas.” Orange comes in when the subject thinks they are being surveilled, tracked, or followed—something that Shipp believes happens to him constantly.
In one anecdote, Shipp recalls being “target identified” by the driver of a passing car during a trip with his wife to Washington, D.C. for “a Benghazi meeting, exposing what Hillary Clinton had done in the Obama administration.” The signs were obvious, Shipp suggests—the car was supposedly “changing lanes, speeding up, slowing down.” At one point, the driver pulled up next to Shipp and looked at him. “Not a good sign,” Shipp says. “That means you’ve been identified.” His professional advice: “Call 9-1-1.”
For all their lightness in applicable skill, the videos are heavy on fear-mongering and relatively unimaginative misinformation. In Shipp’s view, sole blame for the COVID-19 pandemic lies with China (which he alleges “controls the WHO”), Hollywood is run by Satanist pedophiles, vaccines can trigger autism, JFK Jr. was assassinated, and a decades-long Marxist campaign to establish a global government and remove the First, Second, and Fourth Amendments has taken root in Congress. For Shipp, Black Lives Matter and Antifa amount to terrorist organizations with sleeper cells across the country—an analysis he credits to his alleged years in counter-terrorism two decades ago, without further elaboration on his expertise. “I saw a BLM activist with a ‘Defund the Police’ T-shirt just checking out at the grocery store,” Shipp stoically “reports” in one video. “They are in cities across the country just waiting to be activated.”
Shipp mixes his freewheeling and unsourced reports on democracy with heavy nostalgia for his years at the agency. “What’s that Billy Joel line?” he likes to ask, before conjuring vintage photos of himself holding guns. “When I wore a younger man’s clothes?” In an 80-minute video titled “My Personal Story,” Shipp tells a meandering history—part dream journal, part conversion story—beginning in his childhood, when doctors told him a kidney problem left him with little time to live. A miraculous recovery, Shipp says, led him to heathenism—“smoking pot to the extreme, drinking to the extreme, fighting, crashing glasses in bars.” When he found Christianity, Shipp says he began “healing” the sick through prayer and exorcising demons from his friends’ wives. Many descriptions bear a strong resemblance to the final scene of The Exorcist.
Shipp does not disclose how many patrons subscribe to his curriculum or how much money he has made from it. But his following has grown since April, when Out of Shadows appeared on YouTube. Self-produced by a little-known former stuntman named Mike Smith, the film contends that Hollywood is run by a cabal of pedophilic Satanists who control the masses through subtle messaging in movies like Zoolander, the music of Katy Perry, and the performance art of Marina Abramovic. The movie drew little press attention, but racked up more than 20 million views on YouTube alone. An attorney for Smith told The Daily Beast in August that, between its website, other platforms, and foreign translations, the film had been watched “roughly 100 million times.”
“In August, he caused a small scandal among Q believers after calling out its followers, writing, “As I have been saying for sometime, Q anon is a PsyOp. It is growing into a cult. Wake up.””
In Out of Shadows, Shipp played fast and loose with the facts, claiming the CIA “invented” the phrase “conspiracy theory” to discredit skeptics after the JFK assassination, though the term dates back to at least as early as 1870. He asserted that Michael Aquino—a former military intelligence officer whose eccentric embrace of Satanism made him a novelty guest on many late-night talk shows—was accused by 50 children of “running a pedophile ring” and molesting them during Satanic rituals. Per Shipp’s sourceless report, Aquino went to trial, where he faced unimpeachable evidence, but got off “with a good attorney.” In truth, after Aquino was briefly deposed in a single case of suspected abuse during the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, the San Francisco District Attorney declined to prosecute him, citing lack of evidence. A skilled attorney wouldn’t have done him much good, as he was never charged nor went to trial.
The conspiracies that Out of Shadows pushes fit neatly into the QAnon-verse—the otherworldly belief system that puts Donald Trump at the heart of an unsubstantiated plot to unravel a global pedophile network, narrated through top-secret leaks from a whistleblowing agent named “Q.” But Shipp sets his brand of conspiracy apart from Q. In August, he caused a small scandal among Q believers after calling out its followers, writing, “As I have been saying for sometime, Q anon is a PsyOp. It is growing into a cult. Wake up.” This did not go over well with his QAnon-friendly castmates, one of whom is tabloid writer-turned-Q proselytizer Liz Crokin. Later that day, Smith released a statement condemning Shipp’s comments. Then, on Sept. 4, he seemed to walk back his statement a bit in a YouTube video, saying that QAnon had attracted “a lot of good people” and needed to be investigated further.
Still, QAnon’s big-tent approach to conspiratorial ideology has made it a mouthpiece for many theories Shipp does endorse. “QAnon absorbed Illuminati and New World Order [theories],” QAnon researcher Mike Rains told The Daily Beast in August. “It’s the same story, only they added in Donald Trump as a hero at the end of it to make it exciting. For Shipp to say ‘Q’s a bunch of bull’ is really disingenuous…They’re all saying the same things about Hollywood being a tool of a shadowy cabal that rules our world. It’s only a question of who’s making the money off it.”
Originally published: 2020-09-04 23:36:58