🎵 ‘I take this magnetic force of a man to be my lover’ 🎵
After America’s most famous pop star went public with her budding relationship with one of the country’s best football players, most people saw a power couple who share a penchant for lefty politics, public romances and savvy business moves. Far-right personalities saw something more sinister: a government psyop to thwart Donald Trump’s election.
Their theory goes like this: none of it was accidental. The government arranged for Taylor Swift to activate her Gen Z fans as voters by “dating” Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, whose games were rigged so his team would make it to the Super Bowl, where, halfway through, the couple would endorse President Biden for reelection, swaying unsuspecting viewers and tilting Democracy toward an unnatural conclusion.
Perhaps a theory like this was destined to consume all of our attention, according to Joseph E. Uscinski, a political science professor at the University of Miami who specializes in conspiracy theories. “It gets attention because you have the biggest singer in the world, the biggest sporting event in the world, combined with the biggest and most important election in the world,” Uscinski told The Washington Post in an email.
The theory may also have been manufactured not to fool the masses, but rather, sway just one very specific person. “It seems unlikely that a large segment of the population really believes she is part of a psyop,” Barbara McQuade, an MSNBC contributor and author of the forthcoming book, “Attack from Within: How Disinformation is Sabotaging America,” told The Post. “I think it is somebody trying to stir up this controversy in the hopes that she refrains from endorsing Joe Biden.”
Swift’s following on social media - more than 535 million - dwarfs the size of those pushing the conspiracy about her. And she has increasingly been wading into politics. Swift endorsed Democrats in 2018, leading to a spike in voter registrations. In June 2019 she took a public stance against Trump’s LGBTQ+ policies and admittedly regretted not endorsing Hillary Clinton. Swift endorsed Biden in 2020. After she posted an Instagram story last year encouraging people to register to vote, traffic to Vote.org spiked by more than 1,200 percent within an hour, according to its CEO, Andrea Hailey.
So when the New York Times reported last month that Biden’s campaign was, again, looking for Swift’s endorsement, Trump supporters had a strong reaction. Some on TV told her not to do it. Others, online, said it was proof powerful forces were up to something.
The idea started off as laughable and was largely ignored, when early iterations of it were tweeted by Laura Loomer, a far-right extremist, who started her rambling post with this question: “Has @taylorswift13 made a deal with George Soros and Alex Soros to get the rights to her music back in exchange for getting Zoomers registered to vote Democrat against President Trump ahead of the 2024 Presidential election?”
🎵 ‘I knew you were trouble when you walked in’ 🎵
But a darker version of the idea became conventional MAGA wisdom by Dec. 6 when more influential right-wing personalities attacked Swift immediately after she was named Time magazine’s person of the year. And within a month it became frustratingly unavoidable when on Jan. 9, days before Kelce’s team had its first playoff game, Fox News’s Jesse Watters stared into a television camera and asked his million of viewers, “So, how is the psyop going?”
What would otherwise be a heartwarming story of a love transcending America’s disparate cultures has now become an example of that disconnect. “Those who use disinformation to divide us try to demonize that which is other,” McQuade said of the conspiracy aimed at Swift. And added, Swift “could be seen as a threat to Republicans,” since she has encouraged young people to vote, and young people tend to vote more progressive than their older counterparts.
At the heart of this theory isn’t a secret government program, or open-air election interference. Rather, it may all flow out of old-fashioned sexism, the kind Swift, 34, has been battling throughout her nearly two decade career. And despite the NFL’s effort to reach younger and female viewers, it is, according to McQuade, “very traditional, very male.” “Perhaps,” she added, “there are some who take offense to her intrusion on that world.”
🎵 ‘Is it chill that you’re in my head?’ 🎵
Sept. 26: An early version of this conspiracy was posted online by Loomer, who argued Swift’s stepped up political engagement is linked to her fight to regain control of her music catalogue from George Soros, a major Democratic funder and frequent target of antisemitic conspiracies. In exchange for doing one, she’d get the other. But Swift’s support of Democrats started before December 2019, when Swift publicly complained about the sale of her music catalogue to a business entity whose link to Soros has not been confirmed. A spokesperson for Soros’s Open Society Foundation told the Wall Street Journal these theories were “preposterous.”
But Loomer’s post, and others like it, got millions of views on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Loomer kept posting about Swift, and in October claimed she was part of “a highly organized political opp ahead of 2024.”
🎵 ‘It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me’ 🎵
Dec. 6: Early that morning Time magazine named Taylor Swift the magazine’s person of the year. For right wing media personalities, that was proof. They quickly labeled her, and her accomplishment, a “psyop,” a term popular on the right for anything they find suspicious and claim is orchestrated by powerful forces.
Jack Posobiec - a former Naval intelligence and far-right media personality, known for advancing conspiracy theories such as “Pizzagate,” picked up the Swift conspiracy theory. Posobiec told his 675,000 followers on Gettr - a controversial social media platform once led by Trump senior adviser Jason Miller - that “the Taylor swift psyop for 2024 has been activated.” Thirty minutes later, Posobiec told his more than 2 million followers on X, that “The Taylor Swift girlboss psyop has been fully activated.”
The same day Posobiec credited Ye, the controversial rapper who has feuded with the pop star, with having “tried to warn us about the Taylor Swift psyop and we didn’t listen.”
By Friday Feb. 9, Posobiec’s posts about Swift had more than 4.5 million views on X. Posobiec did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Back on Dec. 6, another influential account picked up the theory. The “regime has plans to weaponize her just in time for 2024,” End Wokeness told its 2.2 million followers on X, which include Jesse Watters, MAGA favorite Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and former Trump senior advisers Stephen Miller and Dan Scavino Jr.
Hours later, Miller, who now runs a law firm called America First Legal, put his spin on the conspiracy. “What’s happening with Taylor Swift is not organic,” Miller wrote in a post that now has nearly 4 million views. Miller did not respond to an email seeking comment.
🎵 ‘You’re talking s--- for the hell of it’ 🎵
Jan. 9: Just after 3 a.m. a short video was posted on X by Mike Benz, a former Trump administration official who has more than 147,000 followers on the site.
The video shows Benz watching a snippet of a 2019 conference organized by NATO, where a research engineer at Johns Hopkins briefly mentioned using a celebrity like Taylor Swift to combat disinformation. “Are you f---ing kidding me,” Benz yelled into a microphone, claiming it was proof NATO “had worked with her in the past.” In posting the video, Benz wrote, inaccurately, that it showed “the incredible moment” when a representative from the Pentagon “pitched NATO’s military psyops center on turning Taylor Swift into an asset …”
At 11:11 a.m., Elon Musk, who owns X and has promoted discredited accounts, responded to Benz’s inaccurate post. “Doesn’t seem like an effective way to combat ‘disinformation,’” Musk wrote to his 171 million followers.
By 8 p.m., the video Benz surfaced and Musk responded to was featured on Fox News.
“Have you ever wondered why, or how, she blew up like this?” Watters asked about Swift, even though her record-setting Eras tour was filling stadiums for months before the Swift theories took hold.
Watters featured a clip from the same video Benz had shared, then told his millions of viewers, “The Pentagon psyop unit pitched NATO on turning Taylor Swift into an asset, for combating misinformation online.”
“So,” Watters asked his audience that January night, “how’s the psyop going?” A spokesperson for Fox News did not provide a comment when asked about Watters’ segment.
Watters posted the segment on X, and asked again, “Is Taylor Swift a Pentagon PsyOp asset?” By Feb. 9, that post has gotten more than 1.6 million views.
Watters’ segment blasted the chatter into new heights. Within about an hour of Watters’ sharing his video on X, the Patriot Voice reposted it. “Wakey, wakey!” the Patriot Voice told its followers in a post that has 2.2 million views, as of Feb. 9.
Loomer also reposted Watters segment on X, and said, “Told ya months ago” about Swift. In an interview, Loomer told The Post, “I was more poking fun at Fox News, kind of, I guess you can say ripping off my original idea that I had proposed.” Loomer added, “I never said she was a pentagon psyop,” and “I don’t watch the Super Bowl.”
🎵 ‘Look what you just made me do’ 🎵
Jan. 10 to 31: The day after Watters’ segment, the Pentagon refuted the conspiracy theory, with healthy dose of annoyance and eyerolls. “[A]s for this conspiracy theory, we are going to shake it off,” Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh said in a statement, employing an obvious reference to Swift’s song, Politico reported.
A day after that denial, popular far right activist Charlie Kirk said: “What is the Taylor Swift op, because there’s obviously, there is somebody either using, or deploying Taylor Swift for a reason” Kirk said in a video he shared on Facebook.
A constellation of far-right media personalities also amplified the story of the Pentagon’s denial, including the Epoch Times, One America News, NTD television and radio host Larry Elder. For outlets that cater to audiences peeling away from Fox News, “Everything is more evidence to prove the conspiracy theory is correct,” Juliet Jeske, an independent media journalist who writes extensively about Fox News, said.
End Wokeness, again, posted about the conspiracy theory late last month, this time adding as proof, “We all feel it. We all know it.” As of Feb. 9 the post got more than 6.8 million views.
Others were now describing the conspiracy as inevitable. Former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy - who during his presidential campaign embraced conspiracies about Jan. 6, covid and the 2020 election - implied the Super Bowl, and Swift’s endorsement of Biden were forgone conclusions. Around 2.7 million saw that message on X, as of Feb. 9.
🎵 ‘Cause karma is my boyfriend’ 🎵
February 2024: The right wing figures who kept the conspiracy in circulation may have generated clicks and attention for their brands, but they also incurred widespread backlash.
The Pentagon this month issued another statement denying the conspiracy theory. “Taylor Swift is not part of DOD psychological operation. Period,” Singh, the deputy spokeswoman at the Department of Defense said.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the movie star and former Republican governor of California who has feuded with Trump, mocked those promoting the conspiracy theory. “Remember, everything is a plant,” he told Variety, mocking the conspiracy theorists.
Comedian Bill Maher told viewers of his popular HBO show about the conspiracy by prefacing it with, “The right wing, they are just mental.”
The most knowing rebuke may have come from Reince Priebus, the former Republican National Committee chairman who briefly served as Trump’s White House chief of staff. He told ABC’s “This Week,” that the theory was “a powder keg of stupidity.”
However, when asked by host George Stephanopoulos where ideas like this come from, Priebus pointed out: “Look, we live in a world where division is profit, unity is a loser.”
Clara Ence Morse, Alex Horton and Will Sommer contributed to this report.