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Marianne Williamson’s ‘abusive’ treatment of 2020 campaign staff has been exposed

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Respondents say the best-selling author and spiritual advisor subjected her employees to unpredictable, explosive outbursts of anger. They said Williamson can be cruel and demeaning to her staff and that her behavior goes well beyond the typical stresses of a grueling presidential cycle.

“It would be a seething, spitting, uncontrollable rage,” said a former employee who, like most people who spoke to POLITICO, was granted anonymity over fears of being sued for breaching nondisclosure agreements. “It was traumatic. And the experience ended up being terrifying.”

According to three of those former employees, Williamson would throw her phone at employees. Her outbursts could be so loud that two former employees recounted at least four times when hotel workers knocked on their door to check on the situation. In one instance, Williamson was so furious with the logistics of a campaign trip to South Carolina that she felt it was poorly planned that, according to four former employees, she banged on a car door until her hand swelled. Ultimately, she had to be taken to an emergency room, it said. All 12 former employees who were interviewed recalled instances where Williamson yelled at people until they started crying.

When presented with details of POLITICO’s reporting, Paul Hodes, a former US Congressman who served as state director for Williamson in New Hampshire in 2020, said such descriptions reflected his own experiences of working with her.

“These reports of Ms. Williamson’s behavior are consistent with my observations, with concurrent discussions I have had with employees about her behavior, and with my own personal experience of her behavior on multiple occasions,” he said.

In an email to POLITICO, Williamson said such allegations of her conduct were “defamatory” and “categorically false.”

“Former employees trying to score points with the political establishment by slandering me could do their careers good, but the intent is to divert attention from the important issues facing the American people,” she said. “This presidential campaign expects a concerted effort to sack and vilify us. But amplification of outright lies should not occur.”

In the same email, Williamson denied ever throwing a phone at employees. However, she admitted going to the emergency room after getting upset and banging her hand on a car door, but said a “car door is not a person. I would never physically hurt anyone.” She also admitted that there was one occasion when she raised her voice in a hotel room and someone came over to see what was going on. “I have a hard time believing that people in politics have never raised their voices before,” she said.

Former employees surveyed found that harsh criticism from managers tends to be unjustly blamed on female managers. But they also stressed that Williamson’s behavior, regardless of her gender, was beyond the bounds of acceptable. Though Williamson has little chance of defeating President Joe Biden in the 2024 Democratic presidential primary, they said they were motivated to come forward now to warn people considering working on their campaign about their treatment of staffers.

These former aides said Williamson’s behavior was difficult to predict. She berated employees for seemingly inconsequential things, like booking a hotel room that had a walk-in shower and no bathtub, they said. She told her staff to cancel an event, only to change their mind a day later, accusing her of trying to undermine her campaign. According to four former assistants, she was obsessed with the physical appearance of others and taunted co-workers because of her excess weight. Williamson said she never “mocked anyone about their weight.”

“She got into these vicious emotional loops where she was screaming and screaming hysterically,” said a second former staffer. “It was day after day after day. It wasn’t like she was having a bad day or moment. It was just boom, boom, boom — and often for no legitimate reason.”

In her year-long candidacy, Williamson eloped two campaign managers, several state directors, field organizers and volunteers. Some were fired, others said they resigned because of the culture of the campaign.

In a resignation email sent to Williamson on August 14, 2019, Robert Becker, then head of the Iowa state campaign, wrote that Williamson’s treatment of employees was “disparaging, abusive,” according to a copy of the email exchange , Dehumanizing and Unacceptable” was received with Williamson from POLITICO. Becker, who was a controversial hire due to a previous allegation that he forcefully kissed a subordinate while working on Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Democratic presidential campaign, added, “I cannot in good faith expose any future campaign recruitment of this type of vitriol.” . For 30 years I have had zero tolerance for bullying in the workplace and that has to include the principle.”

Williamson replied via email: “I was pissed off for you but more importantly I had no idea you would see me like this… Hopefully I’ll learn from what you said and hopefully you will not say such things to others.”

Becker did not respond to POLITICO’s multiple requests for comment. POLITICO has authenticated the emails with a former Williamson employee.

Williamson feared her staff would go behind her back and talk to reporters about her behavior, said six former staff, who said she requires campaign staff to sign non-disclosure agreements and made it clear that they were strictly enforced. Sometime in 2019, according to one of them, she suggested tapping employees’ phones, but never went ahead with the idea. Williamson denied ever suggesting doing such a thing.

“The message was, ‘Don’t fuck with me because I’m going to make your life hell.’ So nobody shagged her,” said a third former aide.

Campaigns often use non-disclosure agreements to protect proprietary information from becoming public. However, former aides say Williamson’s use of non-disclosure agreements extended beyond her full-time campaign staff. Those aides said that Williamson’s personal assistant traveled with readily available NDAs and would ask cab drivers and other service industry employees to sign them if Williamson lost his temper in front of them. Williamson also denied this allegation. However, two former employees said they witnessed it on separate occasions after Williamson began berating employees in cabs traveling to and from fundraisers and media events in New York.

“After the campaign ended, there was a time when there was intense trauma bonding,” said a fourth former campaign worker. “It was like, ‘What the hell did we just go through?'”

Campaign staff held discussions among themselves about how to contact Williamson for help with their behavior. But most said they thought it was going to be an uphill battle, given Williamson’s track record of skepticism about mental health and antidepressants. Many said they felt there was no way to speak to Williamson about such sensitive issues without opening up to her verbal attacks.

“Her perspective on the pharmaceutical industry, those viewpoints influenced her personal actions and failure to get medication and help that she needed,” said the second former employee.

While Williamson’s behavior during the 2020 campaign hasn’t been previously reported, it echoes coverage from 30 years ago, when Williamson’s popularity as a spiritual guru gained momentum with major Hollywood celebrities following the release of her first book, A Return to Love.

In a 1992 People Magazine story profiling Williamson, she said she had “a temper and an uncontrolled ego and a cruelly aggressive leadership style,” citing a former employee who called Williamson “a bully.” A Los Angeles Times story published that same year reported that people who had worked with Williamson described her as having “an explosive temper that erupts at random.”

Still, her behavior came as a shock to most of her 2020 campaign staff, most of whom had backgrounds in politics and only knew Williamson through her best-selling books and public speaking engagements, which encouraged people to harness and learn the power of love pardon.

Some people said they just joined the campaign because they needed a job and Williamson offered them one. Others said they thought there was room in the race for a dark side candidate to push people, including Biden, on issues like reparations. And some said Williamson’s books on compassion and forgiveness helped them through their own struggles with divorce, addiction and the loss of family members.

Instead, they walked away feeling emotionally tormented.

“It’s a cliche, but all I can say is don’t meet your heroes,” said a fifth former employee.

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