Why Marianne Williamson won’t let the haters stop her from casting her strange magic in America

click to enlarge Jagged little pill: Dismissed as a kooky New Age sideshow, Marianne Williamson has emerged as one of the sharpest critics of both the Republican and Democratic parties. - Evan Sult
Evan Sult
Jagged little pill: Dismissed as a kooky New Age sideshow, Marianne Williamson has emerged as one of the sharpest critics of both the Republican and Democratic parties.

When former Vice President Joe Biden went head-to-head with President Donald Trump in Ohio during the first of three scheduled presidential debates last month, there were a lot of things notably absent that evening.

The debate, the first since the COVID-19 pandemic took the lives of more than 200,000 Americans, featured a sparse, silent, and mostly unmasked audience, an absolute lack of control from moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News, who allowed Trump to openly avoid denouncing white supremacy, and an otherwise glaringly loveless void.

The cacophony of cross-talk, insults, falsehoods, and disruptive distraction tactics adopted by an unruly Trump (so much so that the hashtag #inTRUMPtion quickly began trending on Twitter) was called a "shitshow" and "an assault to our senses" by pundits. CNN correspondent Jake Tapper summed up the 90-minute circus as "a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck." (Biden, in a rare moment of fed-up-ness, called Trump a "clown.")

Following the spectacle, social media was ablaze with commentary, memes, and merchandise. Unsurprisingly, supporters of some of 2020's 27 previous Democratic presidential hopefuls re-emerged to wax nostalgic and envision what it would've been like to see their favorite discarded candidate take on Trump.

Bernie Sanders' supporters took to Twitter to mourn the blackout of the persistent and progressive candidate and to express disapproval of the former vice president after Biden attempted to distance himself from Sanders during the debate. Elizabeth Warren backers showed up, too, some of whom wished she would have "burst through the back wall like the Kool-Aid man." Hell, people even came out of the woodwork to say that former Pennsylvania congressman Joe Sestak, who averaged 0% in the polls and did not participate in any of the primary debates, could have, and should have, won the nomination.

But it was a prominent gaggle of sage-wielding stans for another candidate — one who warned of the "dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred" of Trump's America when she commanded the stage during her limited talking time at last year's debates — that cropped up to flash their collective side eye and to wag their coffin-shaped acrylic fingernails.

"Marianne Williamson could've hexed Trump on live television but everyone just wanted to make fun of her instead," one post-debate tweet read.

One Twitter user begged Williamson to do a tarot pull for the country, while others longed for her "voodoo" and "crystals." 

"The way Marianne Williamson woulda mopped the floor with them...go harness the love, girl."

Others declared her the spiritual winner of the September face-off between Trump and Biden, despite her no longer being in the running. A viral mash-up video of Williamson during the 2019 debate paired with music from Twin Peaks resurfaced, too, and some admitted to having skipped watching the debate altogether in favor of following along on Williamson's Twitter feed, claiming it was a more valuable use of their time and a more direct source of information.

"Marianne Williamson was right," one user wrote. "She always was."

Though the 68-year-old Houston-born and formerly metro-Detroit-based spiritual adviser, activist, best-selling author, and self-proclaimed "bitch for god" (a title she now regrets giving herself) did not come close to the presidency, she's not going anywhere, girlfriend.

Williamson, who suspended her campaign in January so as to not "get in the way" of progressive candidates — namely Sanders, who she later endorsed — had polled at less than 1% and qualified for just two of the 11 debates before being nudged off the crowded stage due to lack of funding, and, according to Williamson and her loyal followers, a strategic smear campaign orchestrated by the media and the DNC.

"After the second debate, when I was the most Googled person in 49 states, I was really starting to get my sea legs up there," Williamson tells Metro Times from her home in Washington D.C. "Someone in power definitely said, 'Get that woman off the stage.' And the smear began. It was obviously well-strategized because the talking points were always the same. She's dangerous. She's a grifter. She's crazy. She's anti-vax. She's a crystal lady. She's a wacko. It was the politics of personal destruction as delivered by the campaign-media-industrial complex. So much fairy dust was thrown in people's eyes that many people, who I believe if they had actually come to hear me, would've seen me as a natural political ally."

Yet her momentum persists, thanks to her active Twitter presence, a regular column in Newsweek, and an incredibly loyal handful of America's most vulnerable, hopeful, and hopeless, who remain under her spell — which, for the better part of her 37-year-long career as a thought leader, has promised the possibility of miracles and that love, once invited in, will not only open doors, but will bust them the fuck down.

Williamson says misogyny, too, from both men and women, played a role in her inability to crack the primaries. She says she was cast aside for being a businesswoman with no political experience and was frequently mischaracterized as a kooky New Age sideshow, with some outlets describing her flowery speech as sounding like "a California yoga instructor on mushrooms" best suited for a Goop wellness summit and not the highest office in the country.

Critics of her love-led policies have called her "the leftwing version of Trump," suggesting she and Trump have more in common than not. Both preach their own brand of "pseudo-theology" based on self-taught "self-actualization," both leveraged their celebrity status to thrust themselves into the political spotlight. (Williamson is often touted as Oprah's spiritual adviser, though a 2019 press release from her campaign playfully made the effort to disassociate the candidate from the "BFF to Oprah" label.) And both have consistently blamed the media and the left for their perceived misrepresentation.

"I know this sounds naïve," she told The New Yorker in 2019, [but] "I didn't think the left was so mean. I didn't think the left lied like this."

“It was obviously well-strategized because the talking points were always the same. She’s dangerous. She’s a grifter. She’s crazy. She’s anti-vax. She’s a crystal lady. She’s a wacko.”

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Sure, it's easy to criticize Williamson. She's been called a threat to feminism and "hideously dangerous" for her scientifically dubious stance on antidepressants (they're overprescribed), clinical depression (it's a scam, for which she later apologized for having said but the damage had been done), mandated vaccines (they're Orwellian), AIDS and cancer ("sickness is an illusion" and diseases are "psychic screams"), as well as her theories on weight loss (hot-fudge sundaes are equivalent to crystal meth, body fat is a manifestation of negative thinking, and the body's natural state is "fat-free"). Williamson also believes director James Cameron deserved a Nobel Peace Prize for his 2009 film Avatar.

"All the films were good," she tweeted during the 2010 Academy Awards, "but Avatar changed the world." 

However, not everyone was quick to snicker at Williamson's woo-woo political aspirations or bold policy ideas, like creating America's first-ever Department of Peace, dedicating a government department to the betterment of children and youth, distributing $500 billion in reparations to all African Americans, and pushing back when capitalism overreaches. She frequently talks shit about Big Pharma, advocates for taking money out of politics, and has proposed a six-pillar system to aid in the country's moral, emotional, and psychological repair. She believes our top collective priority should be "getting the fascist out of the White House."

"I think people are kidding themselves if they underestimate the extent to which Trump in a second term would seek to limit our capacity for effective activism," she says.

From the rubble of the 2020 campaign, Williamson has emerged as one of the sharpest critics of both the Republican and Democratic parties. But the details of her platform, which, for the most part, were aligned most closely progressive Democrats (the exception being her opposition to Medicare for All, which she has only most recently adopted due to COVID-19 and her own experience within what she calls the "sickness care system" following her rotator cuff surgery), were overshadowed the minute she walked across the debate stage, blowing a fucking kiss to the audience.

She bewitched a confused country overwhelmed by Democratic options with her enviable cheekbones, wide-eyed aversions to plans, and a curious trans-Atlantic warble that comes off as both meditative ASMR and old-timey cartoon villain (Saturday Night Live's Chloe Fineman nailed it when she performed as Williamson via astral projection, threatening to capture the president's soul in a crystal Yoni egg).

But in her closing statements on the debate stage in Miami, Williamson delivered a message that was hard to ignore. "So, Mr. President, if you're listening, I want you to hear me, please. You have harnessed fear for political purposes, and only love can cast that out," Williamson said into the camera. "So I, sir, I have a feeling you know what you're doing. I'm going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field, and sir, love will win."

Her seemingly self-aware campaign team, which, on more than one occasion, cleverly leaned into the immediate viral meme-ification of Williamson, released a healthy alternative to debate drinking games after so many outlets had published their own rules, some of which included taking a shot of hard liquor every time Williamson referred to herself as an "outsider" or to Trump as an "existential threat."

"Instead of downing a shot, do a downward dog," the press release read, adding that viewers should meditate when candidates address Medicare for All, do a plank when issues relating to infrastructure come up, and breathe deeply into conversations surrounding the Green New Deal.

An editorial published in Harper's Bazaar made the case for Williamson as the anti-Trump: "You don't have to vote for Marianne Williamson," the headline read, "just don't call her crazy." A writer for Slate declared 2019 "the summer of Marianne" following her debate performance. In August, when Biden finally accepted the Democratic nomination, he delivered a speech that could have been written by Williamson herself. ("For love is more powerful than hate. Hope is more powerful than fear. Light is more powerful than dark.") Slate once again praised her, implying that it was Williamson's gone but not forgotten "message" that mainstream Democrats had blatantly commandeered in hopes that it might carry them through to the election. The fact was not lost on Williamson. "Your campaign is everything people said that I was but I actually wasn't: platitudes but no substance and no policy," she tweeted at Biden. "Enough with talk about hope and love: show us the policies that provide it!" (Williamson has since endorsed Biden, and on Sunday posted a video saying she voted for him. "I think this is arguably one of the most — possibly the most — important election in American history," she said.)

"The projection onto me that I wasn't having a serious political conversation was simply inaccurate," Williamson tells Metro Times. "We were so led to believe that there was nothing they could hear from me that they would be interested in as to have a very damaging effect on my ability to stay in the race. Although I wish I had stayed [in] to New Hampshire, I could've made it through New Hampshire. And I think that would've been a very good thing."

Williamson's livelihood is built on one's ability to manifest good things or, at the very least, the belief that one can manifest good things as long as they are able to recognize that fear is an illusion and that love is real, eternal, and in all things.

"Seek ye first the kingdom of Heaven, and the Masaratti [sic] will get here when it's supposed to," Williamson wrote in 1992.

The youngest of three, Williamson was born in Houston to a well-traveled, upper-middle-class Jewish family. Her mother was a homemaker, and her father an eccentric immigration lawyer, who, when Marianne was just 13, took the family to visit Ho Chi Minh City in South Vietnam to demonstrate to his children the harsh realities of "the military-industrial complex."

She admits to having believed she had a purpose from an early age but not really understanding the what or why of it all, and convinced herself that "God was a crutch" she did not need. The burden of not knowing fueled years of insecurity, neurosis, and what she has described as feeling like a "huge rock of self-loathing" planted deep in her gut.

"By my mid-twenties, I was a total mess," she wrote in A Return to Love, adding, "I was always trying to make something happen in my life, but nothing much happened except all the drama I created around things not happening."

Williamson attended Pomona College in California, where she studied drama, roomed with Lynda Obst, and became entranced by the feminist revolution and antiwar activism. She dropped out her junior year to grow vegetables but cannot recall having actually grown any. Thus began a period of time that is mostly a blur for Williamson, one she has publically attributed to "bad boys and good dope" as she floated between relationships, cities, and a colorful collection of gigs, including cocktail waitress, office temp, cabaret singer, and assistant to celebrity biographer Albert Goldman.

"She was very, very profoundly confused," Goldman told the Los Angeles Times in 1992. "She was a woman of emotion, like an actress in an Italian movie."

Williamson landed in New York City in 1973 and two years later, while at a party, she found herself peeling open the cover of a massive 1,200-page book with gold lettering. The book was A Course in Miracles, a grab bag of mystical scripture using Christian-leaning language with Western psychology and ancient philosophy written by Columbia University psychologist Helen Schucman, who claims that a voice that may or may not have been that of Jesus Christ spoke to her between 1965 and 1972. Williamson wouldn't get her hands on her own copy of the three-volume self-study until a few years later when a boyfriend gifted her one.

Lesson one in The Course reads: "Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything." Yet, for Williamson, discovering The Course was her direct line to meaning. In 1983 Williamson and her religious texts packed up shop and headed west to Los Angeles, where she began lecturing about The Course out of a bookstore at the Philosophical Research Society and quickly became known as the "young woman talking about God who loves you no matter what," Williamson told Los Angeles Magazine.

Her status as L.A.'s latest elite New Age healer led Williamson to form Project Angel Food in 1989, an organization that operated under the Los Angeles Center for Living that provided meals to housebound AIDS patients in Los Angeles and, later, offered services in New York City. The organization, which Williamson said "grew" from her lectures, arrived at a crucial time during the AIDS epidemic and has continued to serve meals to terminally ill people — 11 million meals served and counting. By 1992, Williamson had reportedly stepped down from her position on the board of Project Angel Food. Those closely involved with the organization alleged power struggles between Williamson, the board, and staff as her reason for handing over a $50,000 check and walking away. Williamson had been described by disgruntled insiders as having a "despotic, tyrannical streak" and leveled allegations of mistreatment of volunteers, going so far as to suggest that Williamson used Project Angel Food as a way to sell books. (Williamson has since mended her relationship with the organization and remains active as its founder.)

Williamson, a single mother, cited other reasons for making the split. She had a baby and a best-selling book, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles. The first of her 13 self-help books (later titles would include Tears to Triumph, The Law of Divine Compensation: On Work, Money, and Miracles, Healing the Soul of America, and A Course in Weight Loss), A Return to Love takes the core principles of The Course, and — through Williamson's conversational warmth, easy-to-swallow platitudes, and scattered glimpses into her own struggles with therapy, despair, and spiritual restlessness — provokes a love so strong that even the Devil would falter after having read it, though only momentarily.

Oprah, who bought a thousand copies after experiencing "157 miracles" as a result of having read it (a miracle, for the record, is described as being "a shift in perception from fear to love"), urged her 14 million viewers to purchase the book. The media mogul's endorsement resulted in the book's first printing — a whopping 70,000 copies — to sell out that day and landed it at No. 1 on The New York Times' self-help best-seller list. The quick rise elevated both the message and the messenger to super soul star status, and paved the way for Williamson to become the reigning Godmother of Big Wellness. She credits most of her early success to simply being in the right place at the right time.

"Oprah had me on — very generously — and said it was the best book she'd ever read, gave away a thousand copies, and that gave me national and even international exposure in terms of Hollywood celebrities," Williamson says."I lived most of those years in Los Angeles, and if you live in Los Angeles, you meet people in the entertainment industry no different than if you live in Detroit, you'd meet people in the automobile industry. And if you're living in Houston, you meet people in the oil business.

"So, it's just where I happened to be and what I happened to be doing," she says. "Back in the days when my book came out in 1992, at that time, there were only a few of us. It was me, it was Deepak Chopra. There was Jean Houston and James Redfield, just a handful of us articulating these things. Now there's a priestess on every corner, you know, it's kind of a thing to be and do."

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