Marianne Williamson, the self-help guru who spiritually advises Oprah, might just be the most interesting person running for president. Her platform highlights what a political outsider she is—her proposals include building a US Department of Peace, paying reparations for slavery, and combating the mistreatment of animals, which she believes is “damaging to the American soul.” Like the current president, she doesn’t have any prior political experience, but in many ways, she’s the anti-Trump, her campaign waged on ideas of love instead of hate. After the second CNN debate, during which she made a case that she is the best candidate “to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country,” people from Donald Trump Jr. to Ezra Klein lauded her performance.
The appeal of her outré platform extends far beyond Goop employees, Moon Juice-drinkers, and self-help-obsessed members of the coastal elite. “People are so invested in creating this false narrative about me as the ‘crystal lady,’ ‘wacky new-age nutcase,’” she recently told the Hill. “The establishment media sees me as a real threat to the status quo.” (It probably doesn’t help that some of her past stances—such as that fat can be “prayed away”—are pretty out there.)
Marianne fans are a surprisingly diverse group of people who discovered her in different ways, and were ultimately drawn in by her unconventional way of discussing politics, and specifically her emphasis on love. (More than one Marianne advocate I spoke with described her candidacy as “biblical.”) There are the people you’d expect to support her, like Hannah Summerhill, a 32-year-old SoHo resident who works at Cosmopolitan. She was familiar with Williamson prior to her 2020 run. Having spent the last six or seven years in feminist reading groups, she explained, “Marianne is well-known in the kind of spiritual feminist world I sometimes live in.”
“I’ve always been a Democrat, but more and more I feel like there’s just this myth in this trap of the two party system,” Summerhill told me. “We need to think beyond red and blue. And to me, Marianne is like a sparkling gold candidate in this sea of blue. That’s desperately what we need.”
Williamson hasn’t totally secured Summerhill’s vote yet. “I want to support anybody who will beat Trump,” she explained. “But in my ideal world, she would win because she is the blesséd antidote to everything that he’s been promoting and propagating for the past two and a half years.”
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But the most metaphysically attuned presidential candidate of all time has also earned supporters outside of spiritual feminist communities. Mike Spensley is a 26-year-old Air Force veteran who works as an electronics technician in Virginia. He first encountered Williamson after seeing memes about her on Facebook. Spensley told me that he never felt particularly represented by a political candidate, until he started researching Williamson’s platforms last month. “Her philosophy about harnessing love for political purposes, it’s exactly what I was feeling I wanted,” he told me over the phone. “Acknowledging US imperialism and saying that publicly is not a common thing for a political candidate.” As a veteran, that particularly resonated with Spensley.
Whether she actually has a chance at winning the presidency isn’t of much concern to Spensley and her other supporters. “I don’t care whether or not she has a chance,” he said. “She deserves a chance.”
“This was the first candidate that I’ve ever spoken to that understands human beings,” Dave Navarro told me, chain-smoking and surrounded by stencils of pro-Marianne imagery he’s been spray-painting around New York.
Naturally, Williamson also has a small coterie of celebrity supporters. The actress Alyssa Milano is on board for Williamson 2020, and recently compared the candidate to Galileo on her podcast. The rock musician Dave Navarro, who also hosts the Paramount show Ink Master, often sings her praises on his Instagram account. “This was the first candidate that I’ve ever spoken to that understands human beings and human psyche,” he told me, chain-smoking cigarettes as he lazed on the couch in his West Village hotel room, clad in a black shawl and surrounded by various stencils of pro-Marianne imagery that he’s been spray-painting around New York.
Navarro became familiar with Williamson through self-help circles in LA, long before she announced her presidential candidacy. “I was familiar with the fact that she was among the great leaders of today in terms of sharing the spiritual voice of love. But I didn’t know that she was presidential until I went and saw her speak,” he said. Previously, he supported presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, before eventually registering as a libertarian. Navarro didn’t vote in the 2016 election. “I felt very disillusioned with either candidate. And I will admit to you that I didn’t see a path that resonated with me,” he explained. But after seeing Williamson speak at an Agape International Spiritual Center gathering in Los Angeles, he felt electrified about politics in a new way. “I was just riveted. I had never heard anybody say how I felt,” he told me. “I never heard anybody ask the questions about why people are getting sick. Not, ‘how do we fix sick people?’ but how we have to address food and the environment and all these things that are making people sick.”
Navarro preferred to speak about Williamson in apolitical terms, explaining, “I’m more spiritual.” But his support for her is also a reaction to his frustration with the viciousness and name-calling dominating the political discourse on both the left and the right. He loves Williamson’s message of unity. “We’re all genetically connected and we’re made of the same atomic compounds as everything in the world, as everything in the universe,” he proclaimed. “When you go to a Marianne Williamson event, it’s almost not a political event. It doesn’t feel political. It feels like we’re being given pearls of wisdom to apply to our lives, whether she wins or not.”
Stefan Siegel, a 48-year-old ex-academic who’s worked in finance, was drawn to Williamson for less spiritual reasons than some of her other fans. He began paying attention to Williamson after she did an interview on the popular leftist podcast, Chapo Trap House. “I don’t really like those guys,” he clarified. “But I listened to it and I was like: Holy shit. She’s talking about Marx and MLK, and she really does have a sophisticated understanding of what the politics of love means.”
He likes her outsider approach: “I see all the other candidates as austerity thinkers. All their plans and policies are first about what can we afford. Marianne comes at it from a post-scarcity angle and says, it’s not about what we can afford, but what we absolutely have to do.”
Many Americans were exposed to Williamson’s ideology during the first CNN debate, where she made a splash. Speaking in a mystifying mid-Atlantic accent, she differentiated herself from the pack. When asked what her first action would be as president, she said, “My first call is to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, who said that her goal is to make New Zealand the place where it’s the best place in the world for a child to grow up. And I would tell her, girlfriend, you are so on, because the United States of America is going to be the best place in the world for a child to grow up.”
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But the moment she spoke about harnessing “love for political purposes,” Erik Bryan, a 31-year-old deli worker from Huntsville, Alabama, was sold. “After that moment, I was instantly like, Who is this? What is this? Oh God, why is this resonating with me more than anyone else?” he told me, his enthusiasm oozing through the phone. His support for Marianne, he’s since realized, stems back to the Japanese anime he watched as a boy, many of which, he told me, “had this really almost beautiful romantic ideal that things that are not inherently violent.” Although he grew up in a right-leaning household, his life experience has caused him to drift left. “And then I saw this crazy woo-woo lady talking about how we need love and stuff, and I’m like, That’s my Japanese anime! Fuck!” (Bryan, for what’s it worth, didn’t use “woo-woo” disparagingly, clarifying, “We love our mother.”)
After Williamson’s debate performance, the comparisons to Trump were almost inevitable. After all, the president distinguished himself from other Republican candidates by speaking brashly and boldly, unafraid to go for an easy insult or make a mean joke about his opponents. Like Trump, Williamson is speaking about politics using language we’ve never seen from a candidate before. “Something about her really resonated with my heart,” Gabby Bess, a New York City-based reiki practitioner told me over the phone. “Senator [Elizabeth] Warren and Bernie Sanders, I totally agree with so many things they stand for and their policies. Marianne Williamson has all of that, plus this other dimension, which expands the political conversation so much deeper, and connects it to a vision we could have as human beings.”
“And then I saw this crazy woo-woo lady talking about how we need love and I’m like, ‘That’s my Japanese anime!'”
Bess, who’s 26, noted that Williamson got “dragged” in the first debate when she said, “If you think we’re going to beat Donald Trump by just having all these plans, you’ve got another thing coming, because he didn’t win by saying he had a plan. He won by simply saying ‘make America great again.'” But the way Bess sees it, Trump is “a person who’s playing towards everyone’s based impulses and with Marianne, it’s like, ‘Okay we could create a world around all of that.”
“Most people think of politics as like, what can I get out of it? How does it affect me? How is this going to further my ambitions in the world? How is this going to further my material status?” she told me. “And hers is just really like how can we be chill human beings and be nice to each other?”
Talking to these fans it’s easy to get swept up in Marianne mania — after all, it’s not like I disagree with her about the need to dismantle systemic racism. But the problem with Marianne is that, much like Trump himself, if given the opportunity, she never fails to take things a step too far; one minute I’ll be nodding along with her rant against economic inequality and the next I’ll be like, wait, did she just make an oblique reference to ghosts? For many fans that’s part of her appeal. For me it’s why I’ll probably stick to voting for Bernie.
Eve Peyser is a writer from New York City whose work has been featured in The New York Times, VICE, Rolling Stone, and New York Magazine.