It was on May 26, 1947 when an article by freelance writer Mildred Brady was published in The New Republic. Titled "The Strange Case of Wilhelm Reich", Brady's somewhat shrill article was subtitled "The man who blames both neuroses and cancer on unsatisfactory sexual activities has been repudiated by only one scientific journal." The article was filled with innuendoes relating to Reich's sexual theories and the "orgiastic potency" that patients received from his orgone accumulators. She concluded the article by stating that Reich's "cult" was growing and needed to be "dealt with". The Food and Drug Administration launched an investigation that same year to look into Reich's health claims which, in turn, drew in the FBI due to their previous investigation.
The rest of the FBI file covers the results of the investigation and Reich's increasingly irrational denunciations of the FDA and Mildred Brady. He denounced her as a "Communist sniper" who was acting under orders from the Communist party to discredit him with a smear campaign. To ensure that the government was kept informed of his progress, Reich provided the FBI with copies of all of his research papers on orgone energy that were published at his institute in Maine.
While the investigation dragged on, Reich attempted to interest the Atomic Energy Commission in his orgone research for fear of it falling into the hands of foreign agents. After demonstrating his research for representatives of the Commision, they politely informed him that the experiments were "outside the scope of the Atomic Energy Commission". An internal memo included in the file added that scientists who examined Reich's research were of the opinion that "Reich is mentally unsound in his scientific experiments". He also continued with his weather control research and, in 1952, Reich wrote a letter to the Justice Department stating that he would be travelling to other parts of the country to test out his cloudbusting equipment. After proving that he could affect the weather in Rangeley, Maine, he wished to see if he could affect the weather in "desert country" as well. Reich also added that he would be going incognito under the name of Walter Roner as "suspicion and slander on the part of uninformed or sick people has been and is so rampant in my case, in the United States as well as abroad".
After an exhaustive ten-year investigation,the FDA finally concluded that Reich's orgone treatments involved "fraud of the first magnitude". In February 1954, the FDA applied for an injunction against Reich in the Federal Court in Portland, Maine. The injunction asked for a ban on interstate shipping of orgone accumulators as well as on all published literature relating to the devices. Reich refused to appear in court to defend himself as he argued that a court of law should not be used to judge scientific research. The presiding judge, John Clifford, rejected the argument and granted the injunction.
Reich appealed the decision and turned over documents to the FBI as proof of a "red fascist instigated plot" against the Orgone Institute and the United States. His personal assistant (and son-in-law) William Moise attempted to arrange a meeting with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to present the evidence in person. After being told that a meeting would not be possible and that the FBI had no jurisdiction in the case, Moise was sent away. The Bureau also received a telegram dated March 23, 1954 from Reich informing them that a snow storm had struck Rangeley, Maine as he had previously predicted. Reich also announced that he would be flooding the East Coast with rain to prove the value of his experiments (the FBI was not impressed).
Federal authorities seized and destroyed all of Reich's orgone accumulators as well as several tons of his publications. In May, 1956, Reich was arrested for violating the injunction after some of his orgone equipment was moved out of Maine. Once again refusing to appear in court, Reich was charged with contempt and forced to appear. After a spirited trial in which he defended himself, Reich was sentenced to two years in prison. Despite an anguished note to J. Edgar Hoover requesting a personal meeting, Reich was sent to Danbury Federal Prison in Maine where a psychiatrist diagnosed him as "paranoid and delusional".
Wilhelm Reich died in his sleep on November 3, 1957 in his cell in the Federal penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania where he had been transferred. The cause of death was given as severe aortic stenosis and myocardial scarring although his supporters claimed that a conspiracy was at work to silence him before he could apply for parole. The FBI file includes the results of an autopsy that the family had requested (they had specifically asked that his stomach contents be tested for poisoning) which confirmed the initial diagnosis.
Reich is buried in Orgonon and a replica of his cloudbuster invention stands next to his grave. The William Reich Museum occupies the same building that used to house his laboratory and medical treatment clinic. There is still considerable controversy over Wilhelm Reich. Skeptics regard him as a quack but his early psychodynamic writings have marked Reich as an influential pioneer in psychotherapy. Even long after his death, the Wilhelm Reich Museum and Trust guards his memory and sponsors original orgone research .
Persecuted genius or eccentric? You make the call.