August 22, 2013

Conspiracy Theory: Fact or Fiction

August 23, 2013

The role Frederick Wertham and Mildred Edie Brady played in the FDA’s investigation that led to Wilhelm Reich’s imprisonment (see previous post) has more than historical interest. Reich claimed the communists were behind the New Republic’s attack on him and that both Brady and Henry Wallace, the magazine’s editor, were communists. Reich said she was a “communist sniper” and wrote “Wallace-Stalinist” in his diary. These assertions of a plot against him by Soviet intelligence have been repeatedly cited as evidence Reich was paranoid.

Branding Reich as crazy has, to no small extent, prevented further investigation of his findings. No one in the established scientific community considers examining the work of the deranged. The result is that many of Reich’s scientific claims, which could be proved valid, remain dismissed as nonsense.

But what if Reich wasn’t paranoid regarding Brady and Wallace? What if this often repeated “fact” isn’t true and there was a communist conspiracy within the New Republic? If this was the case, at least this piece of “proof” that Reich was delusional could be called into question.

1. Biographers with an Agenda

Is there no end to self-appointed experts on Reich? There have been more than a dozen biographies of the man and all but two have asserted he was mentally ill.¹ The authors of two relatively recent supposedly “authoritative” biographies have variously diagnosed Reich as having: a severe clinical depression; having borderline traits; a decentered ego; of suffering from psychic inflation; hypomania; megalomania; delusions of grandeur; and paranoid schizophrenia.²

Both of these accounts of Reich and his work are written with a patronizing tone and unconcealed contempt. Again Reich has been portrayed as a delusional crackpot scientist, someone to be ridiculed.³ However this perception of the man and his work might change, at least in the minds of some, with an examination of some well established facts and new information that has come to light since Reich’s death.

2. Connections with Communism

Frederick Wertham and Mildred Edie Brady were recruited by the New Republic to write about Reich. Wertham’s connection to the Soviet-American friendship league, his defense of the Rosenberg communist spies, and his plans to write a book that would make Freud’s findings compatible with Marxism leave little doubt about his feelings toward Stalin’s Russia. His scathing review of Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism in the magazine was followed just a few months later by Brady’s article, The Strange Case of Wilhelm Reich.

It has been established Brady and her husband were known to be well connected in communist circles, but now there is information linking her to the Soviet intelligence and the FDA. The executive officers of the New Republic also had connections to the communist party. Henry Wallace, the magazine’s editor, was clearly sympathetic toward communism and was even believed to be a KGB agent. As to Michael Straight, the publisher of the magazine, he had been recruited by Soviet intelligence in the 1930‘s. All of this does not prove there was a communist conspiracy whose aim was to destroy Reich. But as Thoreau said, “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.”

3. Was Reich That Important?

Was Reich really so important that communists would see him as a significant threat to their goal of world dominance? We probably will never know but they might have been, given the considerable impression Reich was having on highly influential individuals here and abroad. Wikipedia states: “His early psychoanalytic work, his writing about fascism, and his later writings about orgonomy influenced several generations of intellectuals, including the writers Saul Bellow (1915–2005), William Burroughs (1914–1997), Norman Mailer (1923–2007), and the founder of Summerhill School in England, A. S. Neill.” Wikipedia also says that Reich influenced, among others, Orson Bean, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, J. D. Salinger, as well as Alexander Lowen (Bioenergetics) and Fritz Perls (Gestalt Therapy). Both of Lowen and Perls were patients of Reich.

4. Involvement with Communism

Reich had joined the Party in 1928 for two principal reasons: the belief it would counteract German fascism and to further self-determination for its people. When in the Party he was the spokesman for free contraceptives, birth control, abortion on demand, and sex education in schools. He believed with these in place sexual self-regulation could gain ground and help relieve the people’s misery. But as Reich was soon to see these programs were not implemented when they came to power, and neither were other reforms pledged by its leaders. Quite the opposite was true. A dictatorial regime took absolute control of the lives of its people.

The direction they had taken brought Reich into sharp conflict with its leaders and he was expelled from the communist party in 1933. The Sexual Revolution appeared in 1935. In it he denounced red fascism, showing it for what it was--a betrayal of all that was promised by the Russian revolutionists when they came to power in 1917.

Reich’s book had a large readership in Europe and, in 1945 after he had emigrated to America, it was translated into English. It was enormously popular here and widely read by the intelligensia, many of whom were then sympathetic to Soviet communism. It was just two years later, in 1947, that Brady’s article appeared in the New Republic.

Taking into account what is now known about Wertham, Brady, Wallace and Straight and the wide influence Reich’s book was having, as well as the impressive results orgone therapy was producing for so many influential people, it’s not so far-fetched that Soviet intelligence could have indeed targeted Reich.

5. Conclusion

No claim is made here there definitely was a Soviet conspiracy to discredit Reich. Only an opening of the records still held in Russia could confirm this speculation. As to Reich’s mental state, here too it would be presumptuous for me to pass any judgement. However, standing in contrast to those who never met the man, there are the opinions of psychiatrists Elsworth F. Baker, M.D. and Morton Herskowitz, D.O. Both were treated and trained by Reich and they have said they thought him perfectly sane. They are two of the most rational, clearheaded individuals I have had the good fortune to know and, given their long and intimate association with Reich, I value their thinking.

6. References

  1. These two are: Wilhelm Reich and Orgonomy by Ola Raknes and Wilhelm Reich: Life force Explorer by James Wyckoff.

  2. Wilhelm Reich by Robert Corrington and Adventures in the Orgasmatron by Christopher Turner.

  3. The assertion Reich was schizophrenic began in Europe and when he came to the United States, in 1939, a rumor was circulated he had been institutionalized at the Utica State Mental Hospital.

  4. In 1999 there appeared “New evidence Brady was a Stalinist agent with deep influence within the FDA.” This information is presented in John Wilder’s valuable report on “CSICOP, Time Magazine, and Wilhelm Reich” ( where he referenced as his source Jim Martin’s treatise, Wilhelm Reich and the Cold War, published by Flatland Books in Mendocino, California

  5. It was Wallace’s pro-Soviet speech at the Madison Square Garden in 1946 that led President Truman to remove him as a cabinet member.

  6. “Michael Straight, the last of five Cold War spies recruited by the Soviets...” by Richard K. Brunner, as it appeared in February 2004 (

  7. Reich had a growing reputation as a remarkably effective therapist by 1947 when Brady’s article appeared. He and the psychiatrists he was training here in the United States were seeing large numbers of patients.

Psychiatric Orgone Therapy

One of Wilhelm Reich’s most important and lasting contributions is a unique treatment for emotional disorders called psychiatric orgone therapy. Reich began as a psychoanalyst and was a member of Freud’s inner circle, but moved away from Freud’s method of free association when he developed a more effective verbal approach he called character analysis. Later he came to recognize the existence of a specific biologic energy in living organisms that he called “orgone,” which was coined from the word “organism.” With this discovery Reich was able to combine his verbal method with a technique that could normalize a person’s energy. The result was an entirely new approach to treating emotional disorders that he named orgone therapy.

Reich’s work with patients convinced him the disturbance in an individual’s energy state is caused by contractions in the body, especially in the musculature. He called these contractions “armor,” and established that they begin to develop in infancy as a way to block out emotionally painful events.

Past traumatic experiences are locked in the body--and they remain throughout life. How this happens is not fully understood, but there is no question that anxiety, anger and sadness, as well as the other upsetting feelings and emotions from childhood are not forgotten. Armor not only holds the disturbing past, causing it to remain alive but out of consciousness awareness, but it also affects how one feels and functions. Because living a natural healthy life depends upon whether a person’s energy flows freely or is blocked, the aim of psychiatric orgone therapy is to free up energy by breaking down armor. As these areas of holding dissolve, patients release their long buried feelings and emotions in the safety of the therapist’s office. They most usually surface spontaneously with the specific method Reich innovated, without the need of urging or any intervention on the part of the treating psychiatrist. However, occasionally, pressure needs to be applied to spastic muscles, or other techniques used to normalize the body. Because this treatment combines a verbal approach with a physical technique, it addresses both the mind and the body to bring about profound changes in how one thinks, feels and functions.

Today almost all people seeking treatment from a psychiatrist are given medications to reduce their symptoms. However, with psychiatric orgone therapy it is usual that patients, over time, find themselves able to wean themselves off medication and function without pharmacologic treatment. Reich’s therapy is unique in that it not only relieves distressing symptoms, but also does much more. It enables individuals to expand and feel pleasure, and better enjoy the many satisfactions life has to offer.

There are people who claim to practice some form of “Reichian” or “orgone” therapy, even though they have had no formal training in medicine or psychology. Often the techniques used by these self-proclaimed therapists have little or nothing to do with the very specific methods Reich developed and taught. The value of such therapies is questionable and may even harm those who get involved in them.

Qualified psychiatric orgone therapists have extensive training. They are physicians who have gone on to specialize in psychiatry and then in the very unique subspecialty of orgone therapy. They practice in much the same way as Reich did more than a half century ago. Ph.D. Psychologists who have had proper training can practice a form of orgone therapy safely and effectively. However, it is crucial they have supervision by a qualified psychiatric orgone therapist.