The “occult task force” isn’t endorsed by the campaign (“I am very, very concerned about the word occultist,” said her spokesman when WaPo asked about it) but it is — sort of — real. I say “sort of” because the phenomenon this story describes is familiar. Right now the Marianne fan threads on sites like Reddit are mostly jokey in tone, inspired by a kooky yet charismatic outsider celebrity candidate with ostentatious contempt for the dreary received wisdom typified by the other candidates.

But over time, as they invest more energy in the “joke” and the candidate begins to gain traction, those ironic fans begin to become real fans. And before you know it, the kook has gotten real traction.

Because of 2016, I’m not enjoying Williamson gate-crashing the debates nearly as much as I’d like to. Right now my view of her candidacy is still roughly what it was of Trump’s candidacy circa June 2015: “Oh man, this is hilarious.” There’s a momentous difference between her and Trump, as he was leading the field within about a month of jumping in whereas she’s been crawling along at one percent or so since spring, but last night’s performance was show-stealing. Members of the chatterati on both sides are wondering if she might see a bump in the polls. She was the most-searched candidate on Google last night in 49 of the 50 states, in fact. I’m one more solid debate from her away from real anxiety, the dreaded stage two of 2016 syndrome when the celebrity candidate suddenly seems to be for real: “Oh man, I wish I was dead.”

How’d she do it yesterday? Well, communicating effectively with large audiences is basically her life’s work. Williamson is a preacher of sorts and is good enough at it to have earned disciples at the very top of the celebrity food chain, like Oprah. But partly too it was the … occult task force:

[Y]ou might have checked out the “occult task force” organized on an orb-festooned Reddit page “to influence the events at the debate so that Marianne gets as much airtime as possible.”…

Victoria Santapau, 31, reads tarot cards for customers in a park near Ashville, N.C., as a weekend gig. She had never seen Williamson speak before the first debate, and came to the Reddit group several days later. “I’m 100 percent convinced Marianne is gonna be our next president,” she wrote on the forum. “No other Democratic candidate is utilizing chaos magick principles like she is.”

The person organizing the occult task force — who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak more freely about the task force — said a group of 13 chaos magicians, witches and energy workers were performing synchronized “gestures” to help Williamson get airtime at Tuesday’s debate and the race to follow. “The whole orb gang community is tapping into the power of memes to reflect back on, and multiply, the sort of pulsing undercurrents of our collective unconscious,” the person wrote in an email.

An ironic gag by an online community that’s enjoying her vanity candidacy or an earnest bit of New Age hokum to help their idol — or somewhere in between? Either way, dude, I think it worked.

And if I’m being honest, I’m glad it did. I don’t want to have to live with the knowledge that only the right will nominate a celebrity crank for president. Let’s at least see a temporary Marianne surge on the left. (Even if she doesn’t surge, is there any doubt Oprah would be dominating this race right now?) If nothing else, it’d be immensely enjoyable watching DSA types try to puzzle out why “free sh*t for everyone” has competition as an electoral pitch among the working class from the high priestess of self-actualization:

Marianne’s occult task force versus Trump’s meme magicians would be an epic battle for what’s left of the soul of our unserious civic disaster of a country. And if Williamson triumphed, we’d have fun watching the GOP transform overnight into a movement organized largely around its adamant opposition to healing crystals.

Here’s her most notable answer last night, in which she talked about the “dark psychic force” that Trump has unleashed in America. Most notable, I should say, but not necessarily most representative. Williamson is both more and less mainstream than her wackiest answers make her out to be. She’s more mainstream than you might think insofar as she’s endorsed plenty of left-wing economic policies, starting with massive reparations to black Americans. It’s not all “essential oils” with her; she’s a hardcore redistributionist. But less mainstream too in the sense that she’s said skeptical, potentially dangerous things about vaccines and antidepressants. The “love is the answer” stuff actually makes her sound like a more innocuous character than she really is.