Dig into who she knows and hangs out with!

(OPRAH WINFREY – Biggest and most outspoken TV supporter for Barack Obama early on….)






Marianne Williamson, the author perhaps best known as Oprah Winfrey’s spiritual adviser, made a distinct impression during the first round of Democratic debates in June, as viewers either fawned over her old tweets or made fun of her “mid-Atlantic” accent. The 67-year-old became famous in the ’80s and ’90s for her work bringing the popular book A Course in Miracles out of the umbrella of Christianity, and for the past few decades, she has been leading thousandsof her followers in secular spiritual workshops to manifest miracles across the country. Her brand of spiritualism carries all the markers of American evangelism coupled with the aims of progressive politics—be it support of the HIV/AIDS community through her nonprofit, Project Angel Food, or her showy, jaw-dropping mediated public apologies between black and white Americans.

Political commentators have described Williamson, somewhat derisively, as the left’s Donald Trump. She is, as journalist Lynda Gorov wrote in a 1997 profile, the “high priestess of pop religion,” a self-help guru whose writing is “hyperbolic and given to psychobabble.” But it’s precisely her moony politics that made Williamson such an unexpected hit during her first televised debate. Onscreen she was nothing like the other candidates, vehement about love and dismissive of policy proposals, exclaiming at one point: “If you think we’re going to beat Donald Trump by just having all these plans, you got another thing coming.” (As it happens, some of her words have been misattributed to Nelson Mandela.)

Recapping the debate for Vanity Fair, I called her an “odd duck,” adding that she offered the audience “the exact kind of rule-breaking unhingedness that Trump sold to Republicans, except promoted via the language of compassion, and possibly also healing crystals.” So it was a surprise to discover later that day that Williamson tweeted out my piece, with the cryptic words, “It was the best of nights, it was the worst of nights.” A smiley face emoticon was squished on the end. I reached out and found her happy to be interviewed.

Like so much else about Williamson, the whole series of events was just rather off the beaten path. The slight, silky voiced, and unexpectedly forceful Californian once roomed with Laura Dern and in 1991 officiated Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding (at Neverland Ranch!) to her seventh husband, Larry Fortensky. Williamson has already received donations from Jeff Bridges, Dave Navarro, and Deepak Chopra. Alyssa Milano announced on Twitter that she would be attending a Williamson fund-raiser—and was quickly, as the kids say, ratioed.

Oh, yeah: Williamson called vaccine mandates “draconian” and “Orwellian” at a New Hampshire event, adding in June, “To me, it’s no different than the abortion debate. The U.S. government doesn’t tell any citizen, in my book, what they have to do with their body or their child.” (Previously, in 2015, Williamson said “the facts are in about measles,” but also advocated “a skepticism, which is actually healthy, on this issue of vaccinations.”) It’s a curious, potent mix of beliefs: she calls for at least $200 billion in reparations to the descendants of slaves, advocates for the creation of a Department of Peace, and has described herself as a “bitch for God,” but balks, at least at first, at mandatory vaccinations. (She’s since repeatedly tried to walk her words back, but the anti-vaxxer label has stuck.)

It is unsurprising that Williamson’s sticky wicket would be here, in the uncomfortable terrain of child-rearing, paranoia, faith, and wild theories about alternative medicine. The vaccine debate is fully about belief—a war in conviction between faith in modern medicine and deeply felt distrust for it. And belief—a heartfelt, if vague, idea of universal spirituality—is Williamson’s sweet spot. She has written 12 books about the “path of the heart” in everyday life, from her best seller A Return to Love to the regrettable A Course in Weight Loss. Williamson has glowing testimonials from thousands of readers and workshop attendees, and the seal of approval from people like Gwyneth Paltrow, who called her a “spiritual legend.”

As Katherine Miller reported in BuzzFeed, Williamson guided Oprah Winfrey and paved the way for Paltrow’s Goop. Her “cheesy and radical” New Age spirituality from decades ago integrally shaped “Big Wellness,” the now massive women-oriented industry that abuts health, happiness, and beauty, making it a catchall for face masks, houseplants, astrology, and therapy memes. A Texan Jew turned Californian preacher, Williamson aspires to spiritual leadership, the kind wielded by the great people she liberally quotes in her work—and her life. While we spoke, she slipped in quotes she attributed to Ronald Reagan, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and John Adams—only some of which I could readily verify.

Her efforts are intriguing. Some find Williamson’s candidacy repugnant: the Daily Beast calls her a “celebrity grifter,” and Molly Jong-Fast wrote of the candidate’s “moonbeam politics,” “Every minute Marianne Williamson spent talking could have been gone to a serious candidate discussing climate change or immigration or peace in the Middle East.” But Williamson’s tactics point to a glaring omission in liberal politics. About 9 out of 10 Americans believe in God, and yet in the last several decades, the left has fully ceded the language of faith to the Republican Party—the party that cages children and limits health care. It’s laudable, and necessary, to wage war against dogma and superstition. But in jettisoning spirituality, progressive politics has left something on the table.

And Williamson is savvy about television too. It’s not just the televangelism of the likes of Joel Osteen; it’s the medium itself—an intimate, time-shaping, collective form bound up with national expressions of deep emotion. Williamson is known for her appearances on Oprah; she’s practiced enough at speaking in public to respond in full sentences, leaning on her prepared talking points. (Though a recent appearance on The View proved grilling.) She’s fluent in the language of faith, and she knows that our modes of popular art engage with faith all the time. Belief can be manufactured or cultivated, just as commercials try to convince us to believe their promises, nature documentaries tout the advances of science, and scripted shows preach the value of community. Belief has a lot of power. As I discovered, Williamson fervently hopes to harness it.

Vanity Fair: How did you feel about your debate performance and how it went? Saying something like, “Girlfriend, you’re so on”—that became a thing. Did you think about that at all when you were going in?

Marianne Williamson: The reactions to my candidacy range from, “She’s a total whack job,” to, “She’s the one having what is essentially the most substantive conversation.” I’ve been particularly fascinated by some of the meme activity. Pop culture today is emerging from the streets, not in the media. It almost has its own metaintelligence. I’ve seen some of the most intelligent commentary, oddly enough, on memes.

I notice, in the younger generation, a particular distaste from getting their signals from any other source than their own knowing. There is the downside to that, but there’s the also very creative upsides to that. I mean, some are just hilarious. Very few of them really malevolent.

There’s a whole bunch with you in an anime show. [Editor’s note: Neon Genesis Evangelion, an animated Japanese show from the mid-’90s that finally debuted on Netflix in June. Williamson posted one of the memes on her Instagram account.]

People send [them to] me. Last night I read one that said, “Only Williamson’s holistic patriotism is enough to defeat this fascist nationalism,” and I thought, “That’s true.”

How do you feel about the fact that people, myself included, are comparing Trump’s “outsider” position in the primaries to your position in the primaries now?

There’s a part of that comparison that’s facile and ridiculous, and another part of it that people might want to think about.

Can you talk about addressing spirituality in the public forum of politics? It’s rare to see a candidate talk about faith so candidly.

Spirituality is a path of the heart. Any area of life divorced from the path of the heart is dysfunctional. People know this. We know it in our individual lives. Why do we pretend that as though that it’s not true in our collective lives? Millions of Americans are religious or spiritual, or into health and wellness, do yoga, meditate, go to [Alcoholics Anonymous], go to psychotherapy. This is America today. I’m not saying anything everybody I know isn’t saying…I’m just saying it when the microphone is on.

A political conversation so corporatist and over-secularized that it has no hope for some perspective is not mainstream. It’s fringe, and it’s also dangerously blind. That’s a filter that was not only blind to what got Donald Trump here—it’s blind to what it will take to remove him from office. He was tapping into psychological and emotional forces that go beyond mere policy. A conversation that doesn’t factor in those psychological and emotional forces is weak, not strong.

Based on your previous statements, you don’t trust mainstream science on vaccines.

No, I totally think we should trust mainstream science.

We’re living at a time right now when attorneys general all over the country are indicting pharmaceutical executives for their clear role in creating the opioid crisis, where due to the fact that billions of dollars were to be made, and a complete lack of effort, people died. What is it in us that would see that, but then in every other area of their function, just assume that Big Pharma is a paragon of pure intention and concern for the common good?

I’m very pro-science. I’m so pro-science; I want more scientific research. I want independent scientific research that is not tied only to big pharmaceutical companies. And is not suppressed by them. If anything, I’m the one asking for a greater array of scientific perspective.

Do you support researching vaccines? Do you support researching more vaccines to prevent disease?

I’m saying that the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health should be fully empowered as independent agencies acting as advocates for people of the United States, rather than in such routine deference to the dominance of corporate interests.

It’s interesting to me how some people who are so savvy about abusers and sociopaths in their personal lives have some kind of blind spot when it comes to how abusers and sociopaths work within institutions or on a larger public scale.

When you have major forces within government and media that are dominated by corporate voices telling us which and which are not to be considered “fringe” voices, and we don’t have the critical thought processes to think through that for ourselves, we’re in trouble.

You are, if elected president, you will be the commander in chief of the armed forces. But from everything I’ve read from your work, you are a pacifist…

No, no, no, no, no. You have never read, and you have never heard me say that I am a pacifist.

I have great respect for the U.S. military. My father fought in World War II. None of us would disagree that America must have a strong military.

Peace isn’t the absence of war; war is the absence of peace. You need to do more than just endlessly prepare for war. You have to cultivate peace. No generation should be living only for itself, any more than no person should be living only for themself. The president should be thinking about the world 25 years from now, and 50 years from now, and beyond that. Right now our national-security agenda is based almost entirely on ways to prepare for war, and only a tiny fraction of that is spent on waging peace. We have a $750 billion military budget. We have a $40 billion State Department budget, which is mediation, development, and diplomacy. The peace-building agencies represent skill sets that are just as sophisticated, and expertise which is just as deep as anything represented by brute force.

Large groups of desperate people should be seen as a national-security risk. Large groups of desperate people do desperate things. Large groups of desperate people are also more vulnerable to ideological capture by genuinely psychotic forces. So in saying that I want the United States Department of Peace, I’m saying that I want to give the peace builders a place at the table in a way that they do not have, in a far more robust relationship between our peace-building community and our military community.

Last year, in one of your videos, you talked about the Declaration of Independence as being a miracle.


A small miracle? [Note: the video is here. Williamson refers to 1776 as the date a miracle occurred.]

Well, it’s certainly been called a miracle in human history, but of course if I use that word—you know, if [Times columnist] David Brooks says something about spirituality, it’s considered profound. If I say something like that, it’s considered woo-woo. So we can stay away from that word for now.

What’s most important however, is that the Declaration of Independence forms America’s mission statement. We have lost our psychological and emotional connection to those principles. If you have them just inscribed on marble walls somewhere—or written on parchment and placed behind glass, so that we can send our kids when they’re in the eighth grade to see it and say, We did that—if that’s all they are, they lose their moral force. Principles are not alive unless they’re alive within us.

Do you think that there is a unique American spirituality or an American expression of spirituality?

There is a profound American spiritual wisdom, going back to Whitman, to Emerson, to Thoreau, to the transcendentalists. Gandhi himself said he was influenced by the transcendentalists. Spiritual wisdom is not relegated to any particular geographical location or ethnic identity, but the United States has certainly, throughout our history, played our part. The American mind, at its best, is freethinking, and free thought within the field of spirituality is vital.

In 2018, you directed a public apology in Houston, where all the white people in the room turned toward, and then apologized to, the black audience members present. Some of what you said was based on a prayer you wrote in 2016, still available on your website. Could you tell me about that exercise?

Many years ago, I think it was in the 1980s, I went to Sacramento, California, to see a charismatic Catholic priest named Father [Ralph] DiOrio. [Note: In the ’70s, DiOrio practiced charismatic healing, a controversial offshoot of Catholic practice. Some followers claimed he could heal disease.] …We went, and I was shocked that it was a huge auditorium. And there were many people there in wheelchairs, holding disabled children—all kinds of things. Father DiOrio bounds up on the stage, and he says, “Most of us here are Roman Catholics, but some are not. Some are Protestants, and some are other denominations. If you are not a Roman Catholic, please stand.” In this entire stadium, there were thousands of people, and maybe a hundred people stood up. He had all the Catholics line up in front of all the people who were standing and say, “If I, or any member of my religion, has ever done anything to hurt you or to offend you, please forgive me, and please forgive us.”

I was certainly not raised with any anti-Catholic sentiment. As a matter of fact, my father grew up in poverty, and the Catholics gave him an education, and my father always talked about that, how the Catholics had given this poor Jewish boy an education, and any time we ever passed a Catholic church, I saw my father put money in the box and utter some statement of gratitude to the Catholics. So I had no conscious thoughts in any way.

But I found myself, as I received those apologies, with tears streaking down my cheeks. I’m certainly aware, historically, of the attitude of the pope during World War II, his refusal to make killing a Jew a cardinal sin and the difference that might have made, the Inquisition, and so forth. That day I had my first visceral experience of cellular memory—my first visceral experience of the fact that the voices of your ancestors live in your cells and cry out for justice.

[Note: Williamson wrote about this experience using similar language for theWashington Post in a 2018 op-ed. In it she writes, “As I received those apologies one by one, it felt as though an inverted cone opened above my head and my ancestors seemed to be looking down over it. I was accepting the apology for them.”]

So the idea of national apology is not some fringe woo-woo idea, no matter how much some people might like to make it appear in order to denigrate my campaign. There are two aspects to reconciliation: there’s the atonement, and there’s the amends. And Ronald Reagan in 1988 signed the Civil Liberties Act,whereby all the surviving prisoners from the Japanese internment camps from World War II were paid between $20,000 and $22,000. So the idea of national atonement and national amends is, and should be, mainstream political thought.

Did you feel a call to run for president?

No one decides to run for president impulsively. It’s as brutal as it is exhilarating…There is the real conversations with voters, the real conversations with serious journalists, the real conversations about things that matter. That’s one political universe, and that is…that’s all right.

And then there is this parallel universe that’s the political dog and pony show. The polls and the numbers and the money and the mean-spiritedness. And they exist simultaneously. So it’s a psychological and emotional challenge to ground yourself in the world that matters to you…And claim your emotional stability and stay there.

I can’t imagine anyone doing this impulsively. I can’t imagine anyone going through this who didn’t feel…deeply called. Once again this is another area, where if a mainstream candidate says they feel called, then that’s considered something to respect. If I feel called, it’s something to make out like it’s some kind of mystical silliness, which I hope you won’t do.

What do you think the difference is?

There is no difference. What I went through is no different than what any politician went through. Months and months of deep thought, reflection, talking to people, talking to your professional colleagues, talking to your friends, talking to your family. It took me a year and a half. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Your life begins to end on the day you stop talking about things that matter.” [Note: This appears to be a paraphrase of a broader King passage.]

We don’t talk in America enough. We don’t talk enough about things that matter. We talk in our personal lives like we do. In our personal lives, Americans are as deep and dignified and as good as anyone else. But we have gotten into the habit over the last few decades of keeping too much of our deep conversation within the purview of our personal lives. We need to expand to a deeper conversation about what is happening in our collective lives.

The founding fathers spoke so freely and openly about their spirituality—

Providence this, providence that! All men are created equal, God gave inalienable rights. Bobby Kennedy spoke about the soul of America—“This was a conflict of the soul of America.”

This overly secularized, overly corporatist conversation at the center of our political life, is a product of the last 40 or 50 years. It’s so odd to someone who grew up in my generation. Why are we leaving out whole parts of our humanity? There is a recognition [in the 21st century] of many aspects and dimensions of human experience. Yet our political conversation is stuck somewhere in 1983, very externalized…There are millions of people who will be voting in this election who weren’t even born in the 20th century.

What is your spiritual practice?

I’m Jewish. I’m a student of the Course in Miracles, which is not a religion. It has been described as a system of spiritual psychotherapy, and I also do Transcendental Meditation. Once again millions and millions and millions and millions of Americans pray, meditate, reflect. It is only within politics that one would have the audacity to project onto that. That such pursuit is silly, fringe, or in any way less than deeply meaningful.

In 1992, the Los Angeles Times quoted you telling a man afflicted with AIDS, “The AIDS virus is not more powerful than God.” It’s a powerful sentiment in some ways, but—

Whatever context that was in, I never told anyone not to go to the doctor. I spent hours and hours and hours driving people to the doctor. When a clergyperson, a faith leader, prays with someone, or leads them in a guided meditation—this is not in repudiation of medicine. Body, mind, and spirit. In today’s world, the oncologist is liable to be the first person to suggest that you get yourself over to one of those spiritual support groups, because serious spiritual practice has been proven to boost the functioning of the immune system. And by the way, when I was working with AIDS patients, a lot of that was at a time when there was no medicine yet.

This entire idea of me as anti-medicine and anti-science could not be further from the truth. I’m a Jewish woman. You could read my last blog, “I’m a modern woman. Of course I go to the doctor…”

I think [the furor over your remarks] speaks to the fraught relationship people have with spirituality—

No, it doesn’t. It speaks to a deliberate effort to marginalize and minimize and mischaracterize my campaign.

Vogue did a portrait of five female candidates, and they didn’t include you in it, and I saw that you were not happy about that.

No, that’s a misrepresentation.

Well, you felt excluded from it.

All those memes that were sent to me, the meme that I put on my Instagram—people send them to me. None of those memes have originated with me. When I saw the picture in Vogue, I rolled my eyes, and that was the extent of my emotional reaction. “There they go again.” That’s why Ronald Reagan used to say, “There they go again.” That’s how I feel about such efforts to dismiss or marginalize my campaign: “There they go again.”

What happened on The View?

The View was an act of assault and attack on the part of people that I wouldn’t have expected. I mean, Meghan McCain, one might expect. I’ve always been a fan of Ana Navarro; even though I don’t usually agree with her politics, I’ve always been a fan of her spot, certainly of Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar, so I was surprised.

Are you—worried isn’t exactly the right word. I know that you want people to take you seriously.

People do take me seriously.

But sometimes these certain media outlets might not.

What I’ve realized is that the media is not a monolith, and journalism is not a monolith. I have noticed that, while there have been clearly lazy journalists who simply repeat stories or mischaracterizations without doing their own work, there are also very serious journalists who do their own thinking and their own analysis, and for that I am very grateful.

Listen, in today’s world, if they’re not killing you, you consider it a good day.






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