The Case Against Wilhelm Reich, Part 1

Wilhelm Reich always had a problem with authority figures as the lengthy FBI file on him demonstrates.  In 2000, the FBI released 789 pages of the extensive file that had been built up on Reich over the years. The file covers the period from 1940 to a year following his death in 1957 and makes for fascinating (albeit long) reading. Reich_at_davos

Driven out of Nazi Germany in 1933, he fled to Scandinavia and eventually immigrated to the United States in 1939. Reich settled in New York City and began teaching courses at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan. Despite his early prominence as part of Sigmund Freud's Vienna Circle, it was Reich's prior involvement in European Communist movements that drew the FBI's attention. After concerns were raised by the State Department over Reich being linked with the Medical Advisory board of the American Communist Party, a formal investigation was launched. Details of his past that were highlighted in the reports prepared on him by the FBI include his membership in the German Communist Party and his later expulsion from the Norwegian Communist party for "not adhering closely enough to the party line". The fact that his ex-wife had also been involved in "Communistic activities" did not escape notice either.

Despite his work visa being in order, Reich was detained at Ellis Island in 1941 and his home was searched.  Colleagues and staff were questioned and some of his books on leftist political theory were confiscated. In addition to details surrounding his detention, the FBI files made note of Reich's announcement in 1939 of the discovery of "a new form of biological energy which he states comes from the body's organs and that his work has been solely involved in experimenting with this energy which he claims that he is able to control in such a way as to cure cancer". Interviews with fellow psychoanalysts determined that Reich's reputation was "not high professionally because he has gone off on a tangent to develop some new theories relating to sex psychosis and his work is looked down upon generally by the best psychoanalysts in the country". Following a hearing, Reich was released in early 1942 after providing assurance that, while his beliefs were liberal in nature, they were not "Communistic".

In addition to teaching and maintaining a private clinical practice, Reich also began publishing extensively in English. His involvement with the FBI seems to dovetail with a notable change in his writings during this same period. While he had been an ardent Communist before coming to the United States, he then broke ranks with the Communist party completely. He also became increasingly paranoid and denounced Communism as "Red Fascism". Reich often accused leftists of conspiring against him and trying to discredit his theories. His research into orgone energy also took a decidedly bizarre turn. He began a series of experiments showing how orgone energy could be accumulated and used to treat various illnesses. Reich even developed a "cloudbuster" machine designed to manipulate weather patterns by suppressing "negative" orgone energy in the atmosphere. While he contacted Albert Einstein at Princeton and attempted to interest him in the potential value of the orgone devices, the great physicist was not receptive.

By 1942, Reich had permanently relocated to an old farm near Rangeley, Maine which he named "Orgonon". It was there that he continued his research into orgone energy and began using it to treat an extensive range of illnesses including cancer and mental illness. He began manufacturing "orgone accumulators" and also worked with assistants on a motor powered by orgone energy. With dreams of creating an inexhaustible energy source, Reich solicited loans and contributions from interested parties and made ambitious plans to expand his activities further.

Continue to Part 2...


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