Wilhelm Reich Trial: 1956
Reich took his cloud-buster to Arizona and allegedly produced rain that, in turn, produced 12-inch-high grass where—the locals said—none had ever sprouted. During his absence from Rangeley, his assistant, psychiatrist Michael Silvert, shipped orgone accumulators to New York City and the foundation continued distributing its books and other printed material. By early 1955, the FDA accused Reich, Silvert, and the foundation of criminal contempt for failing to comply with the injunction.
The trial opened before George C. Sweeney, senior judge of the U.S. District Court, on Thursday, May 3, 1956. Reich and Silvert both served as their own lawyers. Prosecutor Peter Mills first presented witnesses who had built and shipped the accumulators. A Brooklyn, New York, customer testified that he had rented an accumulator after the March 1954 injunction. Ilse Ollendorf testified that income from accumulators in the first four months after the injunction was the same as earlier. Thomas Mangravite told of repairing used accumulators and reshipping them to other customers after the injunction ordered them destroyed. Two Orgonon laboratory office employees testified that literature was distributed and accumulators rented after the injunction.
Reich's opening defense statement emphasized that he had indeed violated the injunction order. Judge Sweeney warned him, "You're practically pleading guilty."
Reich insisted that the injunction "had to be violated." He then introduced witnesses who established that he and his colleagues "were armed constantly" with rifles "to protect our work against espionage."
Defense witness Thomas Ross testified that his orders were to be armed and admit no one to the Orgonon laboratory. "Tell the jury," Reich said to Ross, "if I was ready to die last summer."
"He can't possibly know that," said the judge.
"Did you prepare a grave for me during the time we were armed?" Reich asked the witness.
The prosecution objected, "That is ridiculous."
"It's not ridiculous if you're in it," said Reich.
The judge permitted Ross to say he did dig a grave. But he refused to permit testimony on the defendants' motives in arming themselves and employees, saying the only question for the jury was whether the injunction had been violated.
The three women and nine men of the jury deliberated for 20 minutes before finding Reich, Silvert, and the foundation guilty. Reich was sentenced to two years' imprisonment, Silvert to one year and a day. The foundation was fined $10,000.
On December 11, 1956, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the district court verdict, and on February 25, 1957, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to accept the case. Reich was incarcerated in the Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, federal prison, where he was found dead on his cell cot on November 3, 1957. An autopsy reported "myocardial insufficiency with sudden heart failure."
Silvert was released on December 12, 1957, after serving three-quarters of his sentence. In 1958, he committed suicide.
—Bernard Ryan, Jr.
Suggestions for Further Reading
Bean, Orson. Me and the Orgone. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1971.
Boadella, David. Wilhelm Reich, the Evolution of His Work. London: Vision Press, 1973.
Greenfield, Jerome. Wilhelm Reich vs. the U.S.A. New York: Norton, 1974.
Higgins, Mary, and Chester M. Raphael, M.D., eds. Reich Speaks of Freud. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1967.
Mann, W. Edward, and Edward Hoffman. The Man Who Dreamed of Tomorrow. Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher, 1980.
Ollendorf, Ilse. Wilhelm Reich: A Personal Biography. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1969.
Reich, Wilhelm. The Discovery of the Orgone. New York: Noonday Press, 1970.
. The Mass Psychology of Fascism. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1970.
. The Sexual Revolution. New York: Noonday Press, 1970.
Sharof, Myron. Fury on Earth. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983.
Wilson, Colin. The Quest for Wilhelm Reich. Garden City: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1981.
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