Marianne Williamson’s 2020 campaign for president has made barely a blip—until this week when she called mandatory-vaccine policies “draconian” and “Orwellian,” immediately sparking criticism that she is an anti-vaxxer. On Thursday, appearing on The View, the New Age self-help guru said she misspoke but then failed to make a full-throated endorsement of vaccines, saying she does not “trust the propaganda on either side” and that “we must have a balance between public safety and the issues of individual freedom.”
Williamson, who has scored about 1 percent of voters’ support in several polls, secured a spot on the debate stage next week. Here’s a look at her past:
Her vaccine skepticism isn’t new
In a 2011 Facebook post, Williamson said she understood “the controversial aspects of vaccinations, and I share many of the concerns.” While she said she admired the Gates Foundation’s efforts to vaccinate children in the developing world, “the issue isn’t black and white.” (Scientists and mainstream medical providers disagree and say the safety and efficacy of vaccines is well-established).
She found her career through a book ‘dictated’ by Jesus
The foundation of Williamson’s career is Helen Schucman’s spiritual self-help book A Course in Miracles, which Schucman claimed had been dictated to her by Jesus but which has been criticized by some as pseudo-Christianity. “I had no idea at the time that my study of The Course, plus writing and speaking about it, would turn into a 35-year career,” Williamson has written. She began lecturing to small groups on The Course and in 1992 she published A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles. Oprah Winfrey read it and told her TV audience that she experienced 157 miracles as a result. Williamson has since published 12 other books.
She calls herself ‘the Bitch for God’
As she gained fame, Williamson—who once called herself “the bitch for God”— was accused of harsh treatment of her employees in the past. “Marianne is a tyrant,” one of her former associates told People magazine in 1992. “Her own ego is going to destroy her.” The magazine said one staffer was fired soon after a double mastectomy. The article described how Williamson’s employees attempted to unionize to protect themselves from Williamson’s bad temper. She fired one staffer, Regina Hoover, after a double mastectomy, leaving Hoover to navigate the medical expenses. In an Entertainment Weekly story that same year, she was accused by an insider of using her AIDS charities as a platform to “spiritual work to ”sell her book and increase her own fame.” Williamson’s retort at the time: ”Does the press think it has a big scoop that a woman who goes around talking about love would fire people who thwart and undermine her in the organization she started? I’d do it again. Does Michael Eisner apologize for making policy at Disney?”
She has a ‘cult following’
Some see Williamson’s rhetoric as cult-like. “I have these slavish followers,” she said in a 1997 Mother Jones article, railing against people suspicious of her success. “ In any other field, if you’ve got a large audience, people would say you must be good at it.” For $149, you can take one of Williamson’s online courses like “The Law Of Divine Compensation” or “The Aphrodite Training.” In 2014 Los Angeles County Democratic Party chair Eric Bauman said, "She has some very unusual beliefs about the world, a cult following, but she's not a credible candidate.”
Her previous campaign was a flop
In 2014, Williamson ran for Congress, spending almost $2 million on a race to succeed Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat. Kim Kardashian endorsed her, calling her “very inspiring!” in a tweet, and Alanis Morrissette created a song for her campaign. Despite support from Katy Perry, Nicole Richie, and Steven Tyler, Williamson flopped, winning only 13 percent of the vote.
She has a slew of famous friends
In 1991, Williamson officiated at Elizabeth Taylor’s eighth wedding, to construction worker Larry Fortensky, at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. "Through the power vested in me by the State of California and by the fact that I do believe in your love for one another, I pronounce you, Larry and Elizabeth, Mr. and Mrs. Larry Fortensky!" Williamson was quoted as saying. (The couple split five years later). She’s been endorsed by actresses Frances Fisher and Jane Lynch. Gwyneth Paltrow, the high priestess of scientifically dubious self-help, once called Williamson “a spiritual legend.”