Why the Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory About Taylor Swift Is Good for American Democracy

It’s showing Swifties and others that crazy conspiracism is fundamental for MAGA-land.

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You probably have noticed all the recent hubbub about Taylor Swift, because we all notice all the hubbub about Taylor Swift. But this spate of hate, though ludicrous, casts a light on an essential feature of right-wing America: It is deeply tied to the world of conspiracy theory.

Let’s start with the word on Swift. (That’s always good for business.) About three weeks ago, Stuart Kaplan, a Florida lawyer and former FBI agent who regularly appears on Fox News, showed up on Jesse Watters’ show to discuss Swift. He noted that “she can potentially singlehandedly swing voters.” Watters replied, “I wonder who got to her from the White House or from whatever.” Kaplan then suggested the pop star was part of a clandestine operation: “It is possible that Taylor Swift, quite frankly, does not know that she’s being utilized in a covert manner to swing voters…The Biden administration is savvy.” As the two discussed this breaking story, the chyron at the bottom of the screen went further and exclaimed, “Is Taylor Swift a Pentagon PsyOp? Is Taylor Swift a Pentagon Asset?”

Taylor Swift, a useful idiot for a secret Biden operation—that was the thrust here. Of course, conservatives have had their panties in a twist since Swift in September deployed her powerful Instagram account (279 million followers!) to call on her fans to register to vote, and tens of thousands did so that day. Given that the mega-popular chanteuse opposed the reelection of Tennessee MAGA-Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn in 2018 (which aggravated white nationalists) and endorsed Biden in 2020—citing Biden’s support for reproductive rights, gay rights, and civil rights—Republicans who have been peeved at her (including Trump) are certainly right to fear another Swift shout-out to Biden. But it’s nuts to call this the result of a secret plot. Doing so says more about the conservative mindset than Swift, Biden, or the Deep State. 

What triggered this latest burst of irrational paranoia on the right is Swift’s headline-grabbing romance with Travis Kelce, the star tight-end of the Kansas City Chiefs, whose exceptional playing has helped lead the team to the coming Super Bowl. Conservatives on social media have howled that the attention she draws at Chiefs’ games—with the networks cutting to her in a luxury box celebrating when Kelce makes a smashing play—has ruined the matches for them. (What snowflakes.) But in recent days, this harrumphing has exploded into far more than grousing. The rightists have latched on to the Swift-Deep State conspiracy theory and expanded it with a new storyline: The NFL has rigged it for the Chiefs to reach the Big Game…to raise Swift and Kelce’s profiles even higher….to give even more oomph to her presumed 2024 endorsement of Biden. 

After the Chiefs dispatched the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday to win a spot in the Super Bowl, a right-wing account on X with a massive following of 2.2 million posted photographs of a newsstand full of publications featuring Swift, a shot of her at a Chiefs game, and a snapshot of her hugging Kelce and commented, “What’s happening with Taylor Swift is not organic and natural. It’s an op. We all feel it. We all know it.”

The grand plan: Deep State globalists orchestrated Swift’s rise to ultra-stardom and have engineered the Chiefs’ winning season and Kelce’s hook-up with Swift. This post has received over 6.4 million views. Mike Crispi, a Trump supporter in New Jersey with a moderate social media following, boosted this sentiment as that game was ending: “The NFL is totally RIGGED for the Kansas City Chiefs, Taylor Swift, Mr. Pfizer (Travis Kelce). All to spread DEMOCRAT PROPAGANDA. Calling it now: KC wins, goes to Super Bowl, Swift comes out at the halftime show and ‘endorses’ Joe Biden with Kelce at midfield. It’s all been an op since day one.” This poster was referring to Kelce’s participation in a Pfizer ad campaign to promote Covid and flu shots—certainly another reason for right-wing conspiracists to be suspicious of him and his relationship with Swift.

Defeated and discredited GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy jumped on this bonkers bandwagon. He tweeted, “I wonder who’s going to win the Super Bowl next month. And I wonder if there’s a major presidential endorsement coming from an artificially culturally propped-up couple this fall. Just some wild speculation over here, let’s see how it ages over the next 8 months.” Artificially “propped-up?” Swift devotees are not going to like that. And did the Deep State ingeniously arrange for Swift to write a hit song on the Romeo-and-Juliet theme 16 years ago? But this was hardly a surprise coming from Ramaswamy. He has championed the most treasured conspiracy theories of Trumpland: The Deep State stole the 2020 election from Dear Leader and the January 6 insurrectionist riot was a false flag operation concocted by, yes, the Deep State.

Other usual-suspects of the alt-right have joined in. “Taylor Swift is an op,” Benny Johnson, a right-wing media personality, exclaimed. “It’s all fake. You’re being played.” Laura Loomer, an Islamophobe close to Donald Trump, declared, “The Democrats’ Taylor Swift election interference psyop is happening in the open.” Jack Posobiec, a far-right provocateur who helped spread the violence-promoting Pizzagate conspiracy theory, tagged dismissal of the Swift-Kelce-NFL-Biden conspiracy theory as obvious “gaslighting.”

This latest fever dream of the right is another blast of cuckoo-ness. Yet with Swift as the target, this nutjobbery may well have a positive impact—showing a wide audience how extreme and lunatic the conservative movement can be. 

For decades, conspiracism has been a fundamental element of right-wing and conservative politics. I chronicled this history in my book American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy. The modern right’s detached-from-reality paranoia stretches back to the frenzied McCarthyism of the 1950s that claimed the Russkies had infiltrated all nooks and crannies of American society. The most radical manifestation of this was the John Birch Society (led by a man who said Dwight Eisenhower was a commie agent), which was a significant component of Sen. Barry Goldwater’s coalition when he ran for president in 1964. In the 1960s, Republicans assailed the civil rights and antiwar movements as Moscow-engineered plots. So, too, in their eyes, was Medicare. President Richard Nixon believed his own government was scheming against him. (The Deep State!) 

In the 1970s, far-right strategists depicted the Democrats as conspiring with radicals and gay activists to destroy America and Christianity. They raised a lot of money doing that and steered Christian evangelical voters into the Republican Party. In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan revived the 1950s paranoia when he insisted the anti-nuclear weapons movement was a Russian operation. (The FBI at the time said it was not.) The GOP embraced Christian Coalition leader Pat Robertson, a purveyor of antisemitic conspiracy theories, and allowed him to become a powerbroker within Republican ranks. 

When Bill and Hillary Clinton were in the White House, the right went wild with conspiracy theories about their Whitewater  business deal and the suicide of aide Vince Foster. Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell—a mainstay in GOP politics—hawked a video alleging the Clintons had killed dozens of their political enemies. Established Republican leaders, including Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole, amplified the assorted anti-Clinton conspiracy theories, as conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh roared about them regularly and radicalized his audience of millions. 

The right’s attack on Barack Obama was fueled by a torrent of conspiracism regarding his past and his intentions, most notably the racist birther conspiracy theory that Trump embraced and exploited to become an idol of the conservative set. Obama was roundly portrayed on the right as a Kenya-born undercover Muslim and secret socialist who harbored clandestine plans to destroy the American economy so he could become an emperor. And yes, on Fox News, Glenn Beck constantly told his audience that Obama was plotting to set up concentration camps for those who would defy him. And don’t forget the death panels. 

Trump took this grand tradition of conspiracy-mongering on the right—which had often been kept to the side—and placed it center stage. When he ran for president in the 2016 campaign, he hobnobbed with Alex Jones, the nation’s most notorious promoter of conspiracy theories, and praised the disinformer. Trump used conspiracy theories to counter (accurate) reports that Moscow had attacked the election to assist him. As president, he advanced a variety of conspiratorial notions, and he flirted with QAnoners, the nutters who assert that a global cabal of Democrats and world leaders are running an international pedophilia ring.

Then came the Big Lie conspiracy. Trump falsely claimed his foes—including the Democrats, the media, the CIA, Venezuelan socialists, Italian satellite operators, the Chinese, and Black election workers—had rigged the election against him. After that he pushed conspiracy theories about the January 6 riot. His current White House campaign is propelled by the fake story that his reelection was blocked by this vast anti-Trump conspiracy. Polls show that 80 percent or so of his supporters believe this bunk. 

The Republican love affair with the irrational extremism of the far right has been long and enduring, though not always in the spotlight. This is why it’s not been a major storyline within the overall narrative of American politics. Trump, though, shifted that, and recent years have showcased the widespread derangement within Republican ranks. Still, it’s easy to understand why many American voters may not want to accept and come to terms with the fact that a large chunk of the GOP and the conservative movement has become unhinged. It’s a frightening prospect. 

Yet here comes Swift to save the day. With the attacks on her, MAGAites are displaying their true colors and their extremism. Their efforts to denigrate her and Kelce—and their calls to football fans to root for the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl—evince a smallness of spirit and a censorious instinct. Conservatives are supposed to be against canceling people for their political views. Moreover, they are showing Swifties and the rest of us how central conspiracism is to their worldview and how bonkers they are. Claiming Obama was born in Kenya was one thing; alleging that Swift is a puppet of the Deep State being manipulated by its denizens—that’s quite another. 

This conspiracy theory is an insult to Swift and her fans, and perhaps for some it will be an eye-opener to the craziness and meanness that dominates the Trump and MAGA cosmos. Biden and Democrats ought to hope that these voters don’t shake it off. And if they don’t, that would, as Swift might say, be karma

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