Wilhelm Reich, a prominent figure in the second generation of psychoanalysts, is equally famous as well as infamous for his works. Even though he did extensive research on the field of psychoanalysis, these works got overshadowed by his later controversial ones.
Reich drew the attention of the Federal Drug Administration or FDA of the United States when he started to distribute the ‘orgone accumulators’ for the treatment of cancer. He claimed to have discovered the presence of a biological force that he named as orgone energy. According to him, this energy was generated from ‘bions’, which were microscopic orgone units in a state of transition between the living and non-living matters. This further led him to construct a device named the Orgone Accumulator Box which supposedly captured and preserved the orgone energy from the atmosphere. He later used these boxes to treat minor to major ailments including cancer.
These boxes were made of metal and wood as they were natural conductors and insulators respectively. He thought that the temperature of the box rose when a patient was placed inside it since the boxes supposedly trapped the positive orgone energy. Finally, he started putting cancer patients inside these boxes which made him come under the scrutiny of the Food and Drug Administration or FDA of the United States.
The US government started building a case against him and in 1954, the government had enough evidence to order him to stop the manufacturing and distribution of these boxes and other printed material which suggested the effectiveness of the device. By that time, he had started to suffer from paranoid delusions which made him claim that the world was under alien invasion to having discovered another device to drive away the clouds to the deserts. However, Reich did not obey the injunction and that kickstarted the legal battle between him and the government. Even after a lot of trials, he refused to obey the injunction. Instead, he started selling these devices and made a profit out of it. Thus, he was sentenced to two years of imprisonment. He died in prison after succumbing to a cardiac arrest.
In the following years, the FDA carried out an operation in which they destroyed the orgone accumulators and all his research works related to the orgone theory. This included thousands of copies of journals and 11 books that Reich had self-published in America. These books were incinerated on the ground that they contained false advertising for his spurious cancer cure. These books also consisted of copies of ‘The Mass Psychology of Fascism and The Sexual Revolution’, which only made passing remarks to orgone. This act was definitely radical but a lot of people argued that the government was trying to protect the people from quackery. By others, this destruction was considered as one of the most blatant examples of the US government’s censorship policies. This action of the government was dramatized in a short film called ‘It can be done’, directed by British director Jon East in 1999.