Marianne Williamson's internet fans brace for real momentum after viral debate performance

"I feel like we have to do more than just meme in armchairs," a Discord moderator on Williamson's chat server told NBC News. "That's the part that freaks me out the most."

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By Ben Collins

As Marianne Williamson began her soon-to-be viral monologue about environmental racism during Tuesday night's Democratic primary debate, an online chat room dedicated to quasi-ironic support of their "orb queen" exploded with support.

"Queen!!!!!!!!" one user wrote in the chat group, called "Orb Posting," hosted on the popular chat service Discord.

Another user quickly followed up, posting three crying emojis and three emojis of an orb, which has been embraced as an emblem to gently prod at Williamson's references to mysticism.

"HERE SHE IS," another said.

Suddenly, volunteer moderators who made Williamson an ironic social media star over the last month for her sometimes metaphysical policy prescriptions started to realize that their candidate was the unironic breakout star of the second Democratic debate.

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"I feel like we have to do more than just meme in armchairs," a Discord moderator on Williamson's chat server, who goes by Kennedy Cooper, told NBC News shortly after the debate. "That's the part that freaks me out the most."

Neither Cooper nor two other moderators of major Williamson online communities who talked to NBC News after the debate seemed particularly shocked that she wound up being the most-Googled candidate in 49 of 50 states Tuesday night and trended on the top on Twitter.

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"Having seen her improvement in interviews this last month, I went in thinking she was going to get some big moments," said a user named PrincessMononokeynes, who moderates both of Williamson's largest communities on Reddit and Discord. (He declined to give his name due to privacy concerns.) "The idea that she would grab a hold of people is partly why I took the (moderating) job as seriously as I have in the past month."

All three moderators said it was ironic how they started out supporting Williamson, in part to add to a stash of memes that even Williamson herself has recently embraced.

The memes were created to both parody the rabid intensity of online political fan bases that backed candidates such as Donald Trump and Andrew Yang, and also poke fun at Williamson's frequently ethereal language. Yang, a businessman who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, has also enjoyed a swell of online support from his “Yang Gang,” as well as people who have seized on his basic income proposal to give every American $1,000 per month.

Williamson’s online support echoes Yang’s but also tends to take things a step further. On Williamson's largest subreddit, for example, fake tweets parodying her that reference orbs, space and other dimensions are prominent, and labeled as "astral projections."

Williamson has, however, embraced her new role in the last month as a meme celebrity, sharing posts from her subreddit, Marianne2020, onto her official Instagram account.

"Okay, so this one is the best," one caption on Williamson's account reads, next to a picture of Spiderman stopping a bus from hitting a pedestrian. In the picture, Williamson’s name is superimposed on top of Spiderman, and the bus is labeled with the words "Literally all the bad stuff.”

In recent weeks, the effort has become considerably more serious among some volunteers. Another moderator, who goes by "Roy Orbison" on Discord and gave his first name as Lao, worked with a team to create a handful of Facebook pages in support of Williamson, including "Marianne Williamson's Dank Meme Stash," plus a new website called Orbgang.love.

"It was ironic support at first and then it became post-ironic," he said.

Lao, who withheld his last name for privacy reasons, said he now has conference calls about what's next for his organizing efforts, which he says will include a Twitch channel, merchandise and maybe "finding musicians to drop a hot Orbgang mixtape."

"I started doing the Marianne Williamson meme stuff as a funny thing and the more I learned about Marianne Williamson, the more I realized that her policies were substantive and serious," Lao said. "Our priority right now is helping Marianne Williamson qualify for the third debate."

Cooper said that he understands why many people think their support for Williamson is wholly ironic. He noted the lack of overlap between meme creators and fans of Williamson's books, which lean heavily on new-age Christianity and a text called “A Course in Miracles.”

"I don't think her true loyalists who have been campaigning for her since day one understand us," he said. "Obviously, [the Williamson campaign] wanted this to happen, but I don't think they ever expected it to take such a weird form."

But the Discord user who goes by PrincessMononokeynes said they think many people watching the debates might have had their first look through the orb — and past the irony — when listening to Williamson last night.

"From the beginning, I was a hybrid of irony and post-irony. I thought she was out of this world," he said. "That said, through the 'woo speak' she actually made some great points. She seemed to me to really understand the psychology of current electoral politics."

For her part, Williamson appears increasingly aware of the power of her internet fandom. When asked on Tuesday night how she thought she did in the debate, she responded: “I don’t know yet. I’ll tell you later when I see the memes.”