Wilhelm Reich: Nuts about UFOs
16 August 1999
Wilhelm Reich's Contact With Space
By Robert Scott Martin (Staff Writer)
On January 28, 1954, Wilhelm Reich "happened accidentally to
observe two bright yellow-orange lights moving in front of a
mountain range toward a lake." The encounter was the opening
salvo of a "war" with UFOs that would occupy the final phases of
Reich's troubled medical and scientific career.
At the time, Reich, a trained psychoanalyst who had once
belonged to Sigmund Freud's inner Vienna circle, was already
facing what he called "emotional and physical misery" caused by
his more terrestrial battle with the U.S. Food & Drug
Administration over the use of "orgone," a controversial form of
ambient "life energy" he claimed to have discovered.
Reich found an inexhaustible range of uses for his discovery,
touting orgone as everything from the secret of antigravity to a
tool for weather control, especially rainmaking. Most
importantly, he found that he could use orgone to "interfere"
But to the FDA, orgone simply did not exist, rendering Reich's
orgone-based therapies prosecutable under quackery statutes.
Even today, four decades after the controversy, Reichian
therapists claim to be able to manipulate the energy for a wide
variety of healing effects, including the cure for cancer,
without resorting to drugs, radiation or chemicals. Instead,
Reichians work to build up a current of orgone within the
patient's vicinity in order to strengthen and heal the
underlying life force itself.
Nevertheless, Reich's legal fight with the FDA ended with his
death in prison after defying a federal injunction against the
use of orgone for medical purposes.
Whatever the official status of his medical theories, Reich
expected a response when he wrote to the U.S. Air Force about
his UFO sighting. He reasoned that "the U.S. Air Force is the
natural organization in the Western world responsible" for
dealing with such phenomena because "it operates in the
atmosphere and watches the frontier upward toward outer space."
When the military didn't deal with his report to his
satisfaction, Reich took matters into his own hands.
The encounter and the Air Force
In his letter to the Air Force, reproduced in his last book,
Contact With Space, Reich described his sighting as "a brightly
shining light" moving from west to east through the forest
outside Rangeley, Maine. A second, similar phenomenon soon
joined the first, both moving steadily in front of Spotted
Mountain. He concluded that the objects were not stars due to
their course and the mountain intervening between their apparent
motion and the sky, but the possibility that they were military
vehicles or other objects of a terrestrial type did not seem to
occur to him.
At around the same time, Reich's secretary, Ilse Ollendorff,
also reported seeing "a similar, but brighter and bigger,
because closer, object." Like the aerial phenomena observed by
Reich, Ollendorff's sighting hovered in front of a mountain, but
then "was seen rising once vertically upward, settling down
again and then disappearing."
The Air Force, for its part, was either unaware of Reich's
running battle with the FDA, or was intrigued enough by his
encounter to overlook the controversy. Lt. Steven J. Hebert,
stationed at the Presque Isle Air Force Base, wrote back telling
Reich that the "subject officer notified this organization to
take whatever action necessary, since this unit is interested in
investigating unidentified aerial phenomena."
Hebert enclosed a copy of Technical Information Sheet Form A,
the Air Force's UFO reporting questionnaire, for Reich and
Ollendorff to fill out and return. As Contact With Space
ruefully notes, Reich received the letter only five days before
the FDA obtained the injunction forbidding the distribution of
orgone equipment as medical devices.
Reich returned the questionnaire along with a copy of a short
essay, "Survey on Ea," providing background on other unusual
occurrences around the Orgonon research facility, including the
revelation that friends had told Reich "of saucers having been
seen over Orgonon in 1951." However, he had taken little
personal interest in the reports until 1953, when his discovery
of Keyhoe's book made him wonder whether UFOs - or, in his
terminology, "Enigma Alpha" or "Ea" - might be propelled by
The Air Force did not reply, perhaps put off by the impenetrable
nature of the "basic orgonometric equations" included as an
appendix to "Survey on Ea." In the book, Reich includes a rather
coyly self-important note saying "not all can be revealed" about
his relationship with the Air Force, but there is no evidence in
Contact With Space that Reich was in communication with the
military until October, a full six months later.
Instead, during that time, Reich writes that he busied himself
with appealing the FDA injunction and preparing a research trip
to Arizona, where he hoped to investigate the role played by
orgone reactions in the formation of deserts.
Watching for hostile signs in the sky
In looking toward space to explain his sighting, Reich showed
himself to be anything but an uncontaminated witness. Like most
U.S. citizens in the 1950s, exposed to years of speculation that
flying saucers were not native to the Earth, Reich already
believed that unknown aerial phenomena were, in his words, most
likely "contacts with visitors from outer space."
Reich was familiar with Donald Keyhoe's groundbreaking 1953 book
Flying Saucers from Outer Space, leaving him predisposed to look
for extraterrestrial explanations for the unknown lights weaving
across the sky near his Maine research facility. Moreover, the
fact that he had seen 'War of the Worlds' only three weeks
before reporting his sighting was also likely a contributing
factor - as Reich called the film "a rather realistic approach
to the planetary emergency," it evidently made quite an
Furthermore, the cultural climate of the 1950s not only
predisposed Reich to look beyond the Earth, but to look for
evidence that his UFOs were engaged in "warlike" behavior.
The threat of war was in the air, both in Reich's embattled
personal life and in the broader political framework. The Keyhoe
book popularized several apparently hostile encounters between
Air Force pilots and unidentified aerial phenomena, while no
less a personage than General Douglas MacArthur would warn only
a year after Reich's sighting that "all countries on Earth will
have to unite to ... make a common front against attack by
people on other planets."
With that in mind, the Austrian refugee, who had fled to the
United States from the Nazis, considered it not only a
scientific but a patriotic duty to alert Air Force Intelligence
to the encounter at once.
This policy of full disclosure was typical to Reich, who had
taken care to keep the White House informed about developments
in orgone research since 1951. While his critics point to this
as another symptom of what long-time skeptic Martin Gardner
called Reich's "paranoid egoism," Reich himself seems to have
considered the matter a "major responsibility" and seems to have
downplayed the potential uses of his encounter as a self-
Just before the war with the UFOs
In May, however, Reich made an accidental discovery that a few
Air Force officers, including General Harold Watson, chief of
intelligence at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, would find very
As Reich was scanning the sky with a "cloudbuster," a device he
had designed to draw orgone out of the sky in order to induce
rain, he saw a star "fade out" in the presence of three other
witnesses. He pointed the cloudbuster pipes at a second blinking
light, which also faded in brightness. Meanwhile, the first star
reasserted itself once the cloudbuster was pointed away from it.
Reich repeated the experiment three more times in quick
succession, reporting identical effects each time. As it was
scientifically impossible that his device could have interacted
with actual stars - even in orthodox Reichian literature, the
cloudbuster's range was measured in kilometers, not lightyears -
- he concluded that his device had interfered with two UFOs.
Having concluded that his cloudbuster could also function as a
"spacegun," Wilhelm Reich began to outfit his Arizona expedition
as though preparing for a war with outer space.
In October 1954, Wilhelm Reich was under siege. Not only had the
Food and Drug Administration stripped him of his livelihood, but
almost daily UFO sightings were leaving his friends and family
exhausted and frightened.
"There is no doubt that I am at war" with the UFOs, Reich wrote
hours after four bright pulsating lights hovered for hours over
Orgonon, his research facility in rural Maine. "What seemed only
a possibility one year ago is certainty now."
The UFOs had been menacing Orgonon since Reich began experiments
with super-charging his "cloudbuster" weather-control device
with small amounts of radioactive material. Reich had learned in
May that the cloudbuster not only apparently pulled rain out of
clouds, but also drained energy from lights in the sky, making
it, in his words, a "spacegun" effective against UFOs.
Like the cloudbuster, the Austrian psychiatrist turned "natural
scientist" was convinced, UFOs operated on orgone, an ambient
energy source that interacts with life and organic matter.
Reich's claims to the contrary, the FDA had determined that
orgone did not exist, and so had obtained an injunction against
any medical treatment purporting to effect cures through orgone
However, Reich stayed devoted to the reality of his discovery.
He trained the "spacegun" on two aerial objects as they hovered
ominously over Orgonon, causing both to retreat. One
"disappeared after weakening, waning and blinking, leading Reich
to conclude triumphantly that "tonight, for the first time in
the history of man, the war waged for ages by living beings from
outer space upon this Earth... was reciprocated."
As above, so below. On that same day, Reich informed the
authorities in Portland that he would resume his orgone-oriented
publishing efforts. This defiance would lead to his death in
prison less than three years later.
An odd meeting with Air Force Intelligence
Reich, convinced that the aliens were waging their "war" against
Earth by poisoning its orgone, creating deserts, decided to test
his spacegun in the drought-wracked wastes north of Tucson, AZ.
According to his final book, Contact With Space, it had not
rained in Tucson for 5 years, making the desert a perfect
proving ground for both the cloudbuster's rainmaking and UFO-
Meanwhile, in order to share his findings with the Air Force,
Reich sent his assistant William Moise ahead to Wright-Patterson
Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. As Reich bitterly noted, Orgonon
"had received no direct help from the Air Force, financial or
otherwise," but he remained eager to keep the military posted on
the extraterrestrial-combat uses of orgone.
Moise, however, got a guarded reception at Wright-Patterson.
General Harold Watson, chief of Air Force Intelligence, had
initially seemed eager to speak with Moise about Reich's claim
to have "disabled" two UFOs, even insisting that Moise could
arrive late in the day and the two men could "continue the
conference after supper."
Travelling cross-country, Moise was concerned that accidental
factors could get in the way of the meeting and confirmed his
appointment with Watson twice. Still, by the time he got to
Dayton, Watson was unavailable due to "unexpected important
Instead, a "Dr. W. H. Byers" and Harry Haberer greeted Moise at
the base. Moise hated Byers on first sight, calling him "a man
with a flabby handshake and eyes that don't look at you." As
Watson had expressed concern that a group from the CIA would be
visiting that week, it is a tantalizing possibility that Byers
was a member of that delegation. Haberer, meanwhile, is known to
UFO research as "a crack Air Force public relations man."
Moise refused to talk to the two men and instead waited until
the next day, when he briefed the base's deputy commander, who
reportedly became "excited" by the revelation of a weapon
against UFOs. Haberer and Byers were apparently less impressed,
but took notes.
The battle of Tucson begins
According to Reich, the Air Force continued its tacit interest
in his work, sending numerous jets to fly by his cloudbusting
experiments but making no overt gestures because the spacegun
was "hot because it wasn't official, and the reason it wasn't
official was because it was so hot."
When his group arrived in Tucson from heavily-wooded Maine on
October 19, they were shocked by the Arizona desert, which was
apparently much more severe than it is today. "We were impressed
by the bare ground, giving a general impression of whiteness,
hardness," Reich wrote. "The river beds had all been dry for
about 50 years... no prairie grass was to be seen anywhere."
Over the next few weeks, the party - composed of Reich, his
daughter Eva and son Peter, Moise and another assistant --
suffered almost immediately from dehydration, exhaustion and
general discomfort, all of which they attributed to poisonous
"deadly orgone radiation." However, harassment from UFOs was
sporadic but persistent, leading Reich to theorize that the
"thirsty" aerial phenomena were actively fighting his rainmaking
The researchers fought back throughout November, apparently
encouraging a rich growth of winter prairie grass but no rain.
Transportation difficulties had forced Reich to leave his supply
of radioactive material behind at Orgonon, leaving the
cloudbusters at a sharp disadvantage against the UFOs. Without
the radioactive charge, Reich's team could only annoy the lights
in the sky but not hinder their inscrutable activity in any real
Meanwhile, the UFOs kept making the researchers miserable. One
of Reich's assistants suffered a "breakdown" while training his
cloudbuster on the sky, forcing him to return to his family for
a month of recuperation. In his absence, Reich speculated that
the man had drawn too much poisonous orgone from a lurking alien
By December 7, Reich decided it was time to strengthen his hand
by sending for his radioactive hole card, two radium needles
charged with orgone. After a plane trip marked by misadventure
and bad weather, the needles arrived a week later.
"A planetary Valley Forge"
Once Reich had his radium, he was ready to retake the offensive
against the UFOs and the desert simultaneously.
"On December 14, about 16:30 hours, a full-scale interplanetary
battle came off," he wrote. "A battle which would have appeared
incredible as well as incomprehensible to anyone who knew
nothing about the (UFO) problems or who adhered to the illusion"
that neither UFOs nor orgone existed.
First, the Orgonon team had to shake off "a special kind of
deadly orgone attack" that left them "in very bad shape...
sick... dulled, somehow out of balance." A "tremendous black
cloud, looking like smoke from a huge fire" grew over Tucson,
eventually taking on an angry reddish-purple coloration and
triggering readings of 100,000 counts per minute on Reich's
geiger counter. All of the researchers "suffered from nausea,
quivering, pain in the upper abdomen and discoloration of
movements," while "about a dozen Air Force planes of various
kinds" flew over the team's camp.
Matters of orgone, beneficial or poisonous, aside, Reich's
description of the event is reminiscent of a nuclear bomb test:
a strong military presence, radiation, smoke, queasiness.
However, it is unlikely that the government would set off a bomb
apparently targeted directly on Tucson, a thriving regional
center of commerce.
Reich brought his radium needles into contact with the
cloudbusters and started firing away at the cloud to dissipate
its power. The operation took about 20 minutes, at which time
the cloud had broken up and the geiger count returned to normal.
It rained three weeks later. In the meantime, Reich's journal is
filled with dozens of UFO sightings - "red-white-blue
pulsations," "yellow pulsations," "silvery disks," "green-yellow
steady" - on which to train his spacegun sights. Most "grew
fainter," were "extinguished" or "blinked out." The grass
covering the desert grew to a height of "several inches to a
foot deep," encouraging local ranchers to drive cattle into the
region in herds.
After a brief side trip to Jacumba, CA, the team headed home to
Maine at the end of April, 1955. "Our job in Arizona was done,"
He was dead 18 months later, and all available copies of his
books were burned by court order. Only a few copies survived,
forcing his scattered disciples to rely on private printings of
his works - including Contact In Space - for direction.
N.B. Culled from UFO UpDates during my sojourn there.