Less than two weeks into her second campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, the self-help author Marianne Williamson was hit by claims her public message of love and compassion is undermined by behind-the-scenes behavior including “foaming, spitting, uncontrollable rage”.
Speaking to Politico, 12 former staffers painted a picture of unpredictable anger, tending toward verbal and emotional abuse, beneath the bestseller’s promotion of spiritual calm.
“It would be foaming, spitting, uncontrollable rage,” said one former staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It was traumatic. And the experience, in the end, was terrifying.”
Williamson launched her second campaign earlier this month, saying that while she did not expect to win she was seeking to challenge the “system”.
The author of 14 books describes herself as “a leader in spiritual and religiously progressive circles”. She established a national profile on Oprah Winfrey’s TV talkshow and has taken often controversial positions on issues including depression and vaccine mandates.
“I want to be president because this country needs to make an economic U-turn,” Williamson told ABC, adding that free healthcare, college and childcare were among her priorities.
“The system that effectuates and perpetuates that kind of income and opportunity inequality is not changing itself,” she said, adding: “It’s not going to change if we continue to elect the same-old, same-old.”
In 2020, before dropping out of the primary, Williamson made a splash when, addressing Donald Trump from the debate stage, she said: “I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field. And, sir, love will win.”
Speaking to Politico, however, three former staffers said Williamson, 70, was apt to throw her phone at them amid outbursts so intense that on four occasions hotel staff knocked on her door to check if all was OK.
In one incident, four former staffers said, Williamson became so enraged about a poorly planned swing through South Carolina she repeatedly punched a car door. After her hand started to swell, she was taken to hospital.
All 12 staffers said Williamson would yell until people were brought to tears.
Williamson called the descriptions “slanderous” and “categorically untrue”. She denied ever throwing a phone at staffers but acknowledged the car door incident, saying a “car door is not a person”.
“Former staffers trying to score points with the political establishment by smearing me might be good for their careers but the intention is to deflect attention from the important issues facing the American people,” Williamson said.
Williamson also said she expects “concerted efforts to dismiss and denigrate … but the amplification of outright lies should not occur”.
Paul Hodes, a former congressman who was Williamson’s New Hampshire campaign director, said reports of her behavior were “consistent with my observations, consistent with contemporaneous discussions I had about her conduct with staff members, and entirely consistent with my own personal experience with her behavior on multiple occasions”.
Staffers acknowledged that the accusations could been seen to be misogynistic, of a sort of criticism that unfairly targets women. But, they said, Williamson’s behavior went beyond any that could be viewed through such a lens.
During her 2020 candidacy, Politico reported, Williamson burned through two campaign managers and multiple state directors, field organizers and volunteers.
“She would get caught in these vicious emotional loops,” said one former staffer. “This was day after day after day. It wasn’t that she was having a bad day or moment. It was just boom, boom, boom – and often for no legitimate reason.”
The staffers said they were required to sign non-disclosure agreements. The message, one said, was: ‘Don’t fuck with me because I will make your life a living hell.’”
Demands to sign NDAs extended to taxi drivers and other service sector workers, staffers said. Williamson denied that.
Some people said they joined the campaign simply because they needed a job and Williamson was offering them one. Others said they thought that there was room in the race for a dark horse candidate to push people, including Biden, on topics such as reparations. And some said that Williamson’s books on compassion and forgiveness had helped them through their own struggles of divorce, addiction and loss of family members.
Instead, they walked away feeling emotionally tormented.
“It’s cliche, but all I can say is: don’t meet your heroes,” said a fifth former staffer.
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