Today’s article is the last of a three-part article on Wilhelm Reich. The first article in this series, Wilhelm Reich – Putting the Body in Mind-Body Medicine, Part 1, discussed who Reich was and why his ideas were so radical and pioneering for his time, the early to mid 20th century.
In the second part of this series, Wilhelm Reich – Putting the Body in Mind-Body Medicine, Part 2, I discussed Reich’s discovery of orgone energy, and his development of the orgone energy accumulator, or orgone box.
The box was used to heal cancer and other chronic, degenerative illnesses.
Today, in the last part of this series, I’ll discuss why the U.S. government, threatened by Reich’s orgone energy, went after Reich with a vengeance.
Reich’s downfall began in 1947 with an article entitled “The Strange Case of Wilhelm Reich” that appeared in New Republic magazine.
Authored by freelance writer Mildred Edie Brady, it was filled with distortions and innuendos about Reich’s sexual theories and orgone research. Brady’s most inflammatory claim was that Reich was building accumulators of orgone energy “which are rented out to patients who presumably derived orgastic potency from it.”
Implying that Reich was a danger to the public, Brady challenged the medical authorities to take action against him. Two months later, the article was brought to the attention of the Food and Drug Administration. The result was a ten-year campaign by the FDA designed to destroy Reich’s work.
The FDA focused on the orgone energy accumulator which Reich and his physicians were using experimentally with patients. Convinced that the accumulator was being fraudulently promoted as a sexual and medical device, FDA agents spent years interviewing Reich’s associates, physicians, students and patients, looking for dissatisfied users. None were ever found. As the FDA’s investigation continued, so did Reich’s work.
Reich continued to develop new ways to visualize, measure, and harness orgone energy from the atmosphere. The cloudbuster, for example, was an experimental instrument that could affect weather patterns by altering concentrations of orgone energy in the atmosphere. It comprised a set of hollow metal pipes and cables inserted into water, creating a stronger orgone energy system than that in the surrounding atmosphere.
Water, which strongly attracts and absorbs orgone, draws the atmospheric orgone through the pipes. This movement of orgone from a lower to a higher energy system was used by Reich to create clouds and to dissipate them.
Reich used the cloudbuster to conduct dozens of experiments involving what he called “Cosmic Orgone Engineering (C.O.R.E.).” One of the most notable occurred in 1953. During a long drought that threatened the Maine blueberry crop, several farmers offered to pay Reich if he could bring rain to the parched region. The weather bureau had forecast no rain for several days when Reich began his cloudbusting operations.
Ten hours later, a light rain began to fall. Over the next few days, close to two inches fell. The blueberry crop was saved, and in local newspaper articles the farmers credited Reich.
In February 1954, the FDA filed a Complaint for Injunction against Reich in the Federal Court in Portland, Maine. The Complaint declared that orgone energy does not exist, and asked the Court to prohibit the shipment of accumulators in interstate commerce and to ban Reich’s published literature which they claimed was labeling for the accumulators.
After considerable thought and discussion of this matter, Reich responded with a lengthy letter to Judge John Clifford, explaining that he could not appear in Court, since doing so would allow a Court of law to judge basic scientific research.
“Scientific matters can only be clarified by prolonged, faithful bona fide observations in friendly exchange of opinion, never by litigation… Man’s right to know, to learn, to inquire, to make bona fide errors, to investigate human emotions must, by all means, be safe, if the word FREEDOM should ever be more than an empty political slogan.
Furthermore, Reich asserted, if his painstakingly elaborated and published findings “…over a period of 30 years could not convince this administration, or will not be able to convince any other administration of the true nature of the discovery of the Life Energy, no litigation in any court anywhere will ever help to do so. I, therefore, submit, in the name of truth and justice that I shall not appear in court as the ‘defendant’ against a plaintiff who by his mere complaint already has shown his ignorance in matters of natural science.”
Judge Clifford did not accept Reich’s letter as a valid legal response, and on March 19, 1954, a Decree of Injunction was issued on default as if Reich had never responded at all. But the Injunction itself was even more excessive than the initial Complaint:
• it ordered orgone energy accumulators and their parts to be destroyed
• it ordered all materials containing instructions for the use of the accumulator to be destroyed
• it banned a list of Reich’s books containing statements about orgone energy, until such time that all references to orgone energy were deleted
After the initial shock, Reich continued his research, traveling to Arizona to experiment with the cloudbuster in the dry desert environment. While he was there, and without his knowledge, one of Reich’s students—Dr. Michael Silvert—moved a truckload of accumulators and books from Rangeley, Maine to New York City, a direct violation of the Injunction.
As a result, the FDA charged Reich and Silvert with criminal contempt of court. Following a jury trial, both men were found guilty on May 7, 1956. Reich was sentenced to two years in federal prison, Silvert was sentenced to a year and a day. The Wilhelm Reich Foundation—founded in Maine in 1949 by students and friends to preserve Reich’s Archives and to secure the future of his discovery of the Cosmic Life Energy—was fined $10,000.
While Reich appealed his sentence, the government carried out the destruction of orgone accumulators and literature. In Maine, several boxes of literature were burned, and accumulators and accumulator materials either destroyed or dismantled.
In New York City, on August 23, 1956, the FDA supervised the burning of several tons of Reich’s publications in one of the city’s garbage incinerators, including titles that were only to have been banned. Among the materials burned were:
• Orgone Energy Bulletin (12,189 copies)
• International Journal of Sex Economy and Orgone Research (6,261 copies)
• Emotional Plague Versus Orgone Biophysics (2,900 copies)
• Annals of the Orgone Institute (2976 copies)
• The Oranur Experiment (872 copies)
• Character Analysis
• Cosmic Superimposition
• Ether, God, and Devil
• Listen, Little Man
• People in Trouble
• The Cancer Biopathy
• The Function of the Orgasm
• The Mass Psychology of Fascism
• The Murder of Christ
• The Sexual Revolution
This destruction of literature constitutes one of the most heinous examples of censorship in United States history.
On March 8, 1957, Reich signed his Last Will and Testament. Among its stipulations was the establishment of The Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust Fund as the legal entity charged with operating Orgonon (Orgonon was Reich’s 160-acre farm in Maine) as The Wilhelm Reich Museum; protecting, preserving, and transmitting his scientific legacy to future generations; and safeguarding Reich’s Archives.
All appeals denied, on March 12, 1957—two weeks shy of his 60th birthday—Wilhelm Reich was temporarily incarcerated at the Danbury Federal Penitentiary in Connecticut. On March 22, he was taken to the Federal Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. He died there of heart failure on November 3, 1957, and was buried at Orgonon.
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