Mother God, Robin Williams, and Alcohol as Medicine: Inside Love Has Won
Love Has Won, called a cult by former followers, was not the sort where the leader overdoses on power, sexually abuses followers, and hoards weapons until it all implodes. This group’s leader, Amy Carlson, began her journey more as cult followers tend to: She fell down an internet rabbit hole, then ran away from her family. Before long, though, she claimed to be God and started collecting followers…who helped her slowly die.
“Amy created a palace of lies that she could not escape from,” explains director Hannah Olson, whose three-part HBO documentary series, Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God, premiered Monday.
In April 2021, following a tip, police located a body in an advanced state of decomposition, wrapped in a sleeping bag and decorated with Christmas lights. Carlson had died some days earlier in an Oregon hotel. Not knowing what else to do, her disciples had then taken the corpse to a campground—they were pulled over by cops on the way, who thought the body in the back, wearing a hat and glasses, was sleeping—where they were met by others in the group. The deceased’s boyfriend, known to acolytes as Father God, slept next to her in a tent. Then he and two other followers drove her body across five state lines, back to a home base in Colorado. Before she died, her skin had turned grayish blue. The police who found her thought she had been painted.
Three weeks later, Olson was in town, conducting interviews and scouring more than a thousand hours of footage from the group’s 2,700 YouTube videos and live streams. In 2016, the director had become interested in the way alternate realities were penetrating our democracy. “It’s easy for us to write off people with beliefs that we see as really far out there, rather than looking at the circumstances that created those beliefs,” she says. When she heard about Carlson, she saw an opportunity.
No one wakes up one day and decides to devote themselves to a woman in Colorado who is 19 billion years old and being helped by a team of dead celebrities, led by Robin Williams, in a cosmic battle against “the cabal.” A woman who can cure cancer, addiction, Lyme disease, and suicidal thoughts; one who would also “drink herself into oblivion every single night,” as one former follower puts it in the series. It takes time to get there. In Love Has Won, Olson effectively depicts the water reaching a boil.
There are no talking head experts in the series, or clips of media stories. Outside of Carlson’s family members, a local sheriff, and a reporter, the story is told exclusively by current and former followers and the footage they left behind, lending the series an immersive quality. Ultimately, it’s a story of people escaping untenable lives.
In 2007, after a descent into extreme online thought—including classic conspiracy theories as well as beliefs about angels and ascended masters—Carlson abandoned her working-class life and her children in order to join a guy she met online. Soon they were preaching about the deity within us all in their own videos, as Mother God and Father God. But then, as the original Father God says in the series, Carlson decided “she was more God than other people were God.” She left him and found a new Father God (there would be several), who claimed she had cured his cancer. A so-called cult was born.
The self-styled deity sold remote healings and slowly gained an impressive online audience: almost 20,000 followers on Facebook and nearly 10,000 on YouTube. The group’s videos were watched. All the while, she convinced more and more people to escape their lives and join her party. “You were high from the moment you woke up to the moment you went to bed,” a former follower recalls in the series.