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Taylor Swift performs during "The Eras Tour," Aug. 7, 2023, at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. (AP) Taylor Swift performs during "The Eras Tour," Aug. 7, 2023, at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. (AP)

Taylor Swift performs during "The Eras Tour," Aug. 7, 2023, at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. (AP)

Madison Czopek
By Madison Czopek February 2, 2024

If Your Time is short

  • Conspiracy theories that singer Taylor Swift is a government operative, a Pentagon asset or a “psyop” (short for psychological operation) went from fringe to primetime news in January, thanks in large part to a Jan. 9 Fox News segment. 

  • A Pentagon spokesperson said Swift is not a government asset. 

  • The narrative gained traction amid growing concern from conservatives that Swift might endorse President Joe Biden in this year’s presidential election.

  • Our mission: Help you be an informed participant in democracy. Learn more.

State the obvious: Celebrities often endorse political candidates. 

You wouldn’t know that from recent chatter in conservative circles online and on TV that have added "psyop" to singer Taylor Swift’s lengthy résumé. (Psyop is shorthand for psychological operation.)

The prospect of Swift endorsing President Joe Biden a second time has sent some allies of former President Donald Trump down a conspiratorial rabbit hole about a Democratic plot involving Swift.

Other iterations of the theory claim Swift’s romance with Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce — and his team’s upcoming appearance in Super Bowl LVIII — is orchestrated to benefit Democrats. 

Examples include: 

  • Conservative activist Jack Posobiec said Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, "tried to warn us about the Taylor Swift psyop and we didn’t listen." 

  • Former Republican congressional candidate Laura Loomer, who has spread other conspiracy theories, said that the 8-year-old daughter of former Biden press secretary Jen Psaki rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs proved "the Democrats’ Taylor Swift election interference psyop." 

  • Conservative activist Benny Johnson jeered at news organizations’ efforts to rebut the falsehood. "Nothing says ‘Taylor Swift is not a psy-op’ like every major Corporate News show parroting the same talking points about her at once," he wrote.

Those examples were just from the past week; suspicion about Swift’s role in a plot to distract Americans or help Biden has been simmering for months in fringe online forums. 

In early January, Fox News host Jesse Watters devoted a segment to promoting the Swift-psyop conspiracy theory, using supervillain-esque imagery and omitting important context.

Watters’ primetime segment laid the groundwork for more mainstream conspiratorial commentary after Swift’s January appearances at Kelce’s playoff games.

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift walk together Jan. 28, 2024, after the American Football Conference championship game between the Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens, in Baltimore. (AP)

"You’ve got Taylor Swift herself," said Whitney Phillips, a University of Oregon assistant professor of digital platforms and media ethics who researches conspiratorial belief and identity. "You’ve got the connection to the NFL, which just adds additional energy. You’ve got the fact that we’re approaching the 2024 election. You have the fact that Kelce was in those COVID vaccine commercials." 

Any one of those things could dominate a news cycle. Combined, Phillips said, it’s a cultural "perfect storm."

How influencers on the political right have pushed the theory

Before Watters’ segment aired, speculation about Swift’s potential as a government operative was fodder for discussion on X and podcasts. 

In June, the hosts of the podcast "Macrodosing" questioned whether Swift’s brief relationship with musician Matty Healy was orchestrated to cover up the existence of aliens. (A former military officer went public with claims that the U.S. government possessed nonhuman spacecraft). 

"We started this out kind of joking around about the Taylor Swift thing," said host Eric Sollenberger, also known as PFT Commenter. "Is Taylor Swift — is she a CIA asset? … What better way to distract America from finding out about aliens than having just Taylor Swift announce that she got dumped?" 

Some of the "Macrodosing" hosts acknowledged the theory’s outlandishness and laughed at themselves. 

Others were more serious about how Swift, who endorsed Biden in 2020 with a tray of cookies, could be used in the 2024 election.

On National Voter Registration Day in September, Swift encouraged her Instagram followers to register to vote. reported 35,000 registrations that day, up from 25,000 on the same day in 2022. 

This action fed conspiracy theories. Mike Benz — a former State Department official under Trump who NBC News reported was once a content creator associated with white nationalists — shared a headline in September about Swift’s activism, writing on X: "I told you Taylor Swift was going to be wielded as instrument of statecraft…" 

Benz had previously pushed the "statecraft" idea on his social media accounts. 

Benz, who has more than 140,000 X followers, saw more evidence of government interference after a Dec. 2 opinion piece in The Hill discussed how Swift could "save Joe Biden."

Taylor Swift performs Nov. 9, 2023, at the Monumental stadium during her Eras Tour concert in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (AP)

Swift stayed in the headlines as she attended Kelce’s games in fall and took her "Eras" tour to Argentina and Brazil in November. In December, Time magazine named her "Person of the Year."

Former Trump policy adviser Stephen Miller wrote Dec. 6 on X, "What’s happening with Taylor Swift is not organic."

Watters used an out-of-context video to introduce a possible ‘psyop’

Early in his Jan. 9 broadcast, Watters flashed onscreen an edited photo of Swift with red lasers for eyes. Watters, who took over former Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s evening slot in July, speculated that Swift’s popularity isn’t tied to her musical talent.

(Screenshot from Internet Archive)

"Well around four years ago, the Pentagon psychological operations unit floated turning Taylor Swift into an asset during a NATO meeting," Watters said. "What kind of asset? A psyop for combating online misinformation." 

He aired a clip of data engineer Alicia Marie Bargar saying at a conference almost five years ago that "social influence can help encourage or promote behavior change." Bargar, who then worked as a research engineer at Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory, mentioned Swift as an example, because she is "a fairly influential online person." 

Watters cut in, saying, "‘Primetime’ obviously has no evidence" that Swift is a "front for a covert political agenda." But he continued, mentioning Swift’s voter-registration efforts and that her relationship with Kelce had boosted the NFL’s ratings. "So, how’s the psyop going?" 

Bargar told Business Insider that her comment came from the 2019 International Conference on Cyber Conflict organized by NATO’s cyber defense hub — and that Watters took it out of context. 

Swift was "an incidental example of a famous person to explain a social network analysis concept to the audience," Bargar said. "This is a commonly used approach in academia to make theoretical concepts easier to understand."

In the full clip, Bargar discussed ways to counter covert influence campaigns. Because one way involved training influential people to spread desired messages, she mentioned Swift, who had shared a photo of herself next to a voting sign. 

Bargar said that U.S. celebrities regularly post pictures of themselves voting to encourage others to vote, a strategy that "has a measurable effect" on turnout. Bargar went on to explain other methods for countering influence campaigns without mentioning Swift. Bargar told Business Insider she has no affiliation with NATO or the Pentagon. 

"Taylor Swift is not part of a DOD psychological operation. Period," Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh told PolitiFact Feb. 2. "I’m sure she has other chief priorities, as do we."

PolitiFact reached out to Bargar and Swift’s spokesperson, but did not hear back. 

The theory’s new, wider audience isn’t swayed by debunking 

Watters was the main amplifier of the Swift-as-psyop conspiracy theory, said NewsGuard senior analyst Macrina Wang. NewsGuard tracks online misinformation and produces weekly "Reality Check" reports

Data from NewsGuard’s media monitoring tools showed a 13,000% increase in online mentions of "Taylor Swift" and "psyop" from Jan. 8 to Jan. 10 — the day after Watters’ Jan. 9 show, Wang said. That included mentions on X, Reddit, websites, blogs, news sites and forums — largely excluding mentions that aimed to debunk the idea.

When Kelce’s Kansas City Chiefs beat the Baltimore Ravens on Jan. 28 in the American Football Conference championship game, former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, shared "wild speculation" that the Super Bowl would be rigged for Kelce’s team ahead of a "major presidential endorsement coming from an artificially culturally propped-up couple this fall."

Days later on X, Benz scrutinized Swift’s use of emojis and punctuation — a behavior not so different from Swifties on the prowl for Easter eggs — to speculate that the conspiracy dated back years. He said it appeared Swift had been "handed" language critical of Trump ahead of the 2020 election.

Phillips said she sees conservative commentators’ efforts to target Swift as an attempt to "grab the cultural microphone." They are essentially arguing that Swift "is a form of liberal propaganda" who might mobilize people to vote for Democrats and "take away the voices of Republicans," Phillips said. 

"Taylor Swift is just a perfect opportunity to make that argument and make it loud and make it so that people can’t help but write articles about it," she said. 

Wang said that media scrutiny and fact-checks seemed to encourage proponents of the Swift theory to dig in their heels.

"It comes from this systemic distrust of media and the establishment … and it’s almost like a badge of honor that people are trying to debunk the claim," Wang said.

PolitiFact Researcher Caryn Baird and PolitiFact Senior Correspondent Amy Sherman contributed to this report.

RELATED: What could a Taylor Swift endorsement mean for voter turnout in the 2024 election?

RELATED: No, X is not blocking users from searching for Taylor Swift because of past "pro-Biden" images

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Our Sources

Interview with Macrina Wang, senior analyst at NewsGuard, Feb. 1, 2024

Interview with Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor of digital platforms and media ethics in the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon who researches conspiratorial belief and identity, Feb. 1, 2024

Email interview with John Pike, director of, Jan. 31, 2024

YouTube, Mike Benz: How Dangerous is the CIA? Dec. 20, 2023

Macrodosing Podcast TikTok, June 6, 2023

Macrodosing Podcast on YouTube, Macrodosing Has an Ice Cream Party | NANODOSE, June 6, 2023

Mike Benz post on X, Aug. 21, 2023

Mike Benz post on X, Sept. 21, 2023 

Mike Benz post on X, Dec. 4, 2023

Mike Benz post on X, Jan. 31, 2024

Stephen Miller post on X, Dec. 6, 2023

Variety, Taylor Swift Ignites Right-Wing Media Frenzy: Why Pundits Think the Super Bowl Is Rigged and the Pop Star Is a Psyop, Jan. 30, 2024

The New York Times, Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce and a MAGA Meltdown, Jan. 30, 2024

Axios, "Stick to singing": MAGA backlash against Taylor Swift gets ugly, Jan. 30, 2024

Jesse Watters post on X, Jan. 9, 2024

Politico, Haters gonna hate: Pentagon pushes back against Fox News conspiracy theory involving Taylor Swift, Jan. 10, 2024

NBC News, Michael Benz, a conservative crusader against online censorship, appears to have a secret history as an alt-right persona, Oct. 6, 2023

NATO CCDCOE on YouTube, Information Warfare Defining and Analysing - CyCon 2019, Aug. 13, 2019

Business Insider, Fox News ran a conspiratorial segment saying the Pentagon wanted to use Taylor Swift as a psy-op, Jan. 10, 2024

The Associated Press, How Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce became the focus of baseless political conspiracy theories, Jan. 31, 2024

Guinness World Records, Spotify Wrapped 2023: Taylor Swift ends epic year of record breaking as most streamed act, Dec. 20, 2023

Time, Breaking Down Taylor Swift’s 2023 Impact By the Numbers, Dec. 8, 2023

The Hollywood Reporter, Box Office Milestone: Taylor Swift’s ‘Eras Tour’ Crosses $250M Globally, Nov. 27, 2023

The Guardian, Taylor Swift’s Eras tour becomes first to gross over $1bn – report, Dec. 8, 2023

The Daily Dot, ‘What’s happening is not organic’: Why the right thinks Taylor Swift is a government PsyOp designed to swing the 2024 election, Dec. 7, 2023

UF News, Why Taylor Swift’s breakup feels like our breakup too, according to a UF media professor, April 13, 2023

ET, Why Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn Broke Up After Six Years, April 11, 2023

Elle, Travis Kelce Confirms He Can’t Join Taylor Swift at the Grammys and Discusses Their Relationship Timeline, Jan. 31, 2024

The New York Times, How Often Is Taylor Swift Actually Shown at N.F.L. Games? Jan. 25, 2024

People, Taylor Swift and Matty Healy's Relationship Through the Years, June 5, 2023

The Hill, Miss Americana: How Taylor Swift could save Joe Biden, Dec. 2, 2023

Today, The real reasons you’re so emotionally invested in Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce, Sept. 27, 2023

Vivek Ramaswamy post on X, Jan. 29, 2024

Email exchange with Aisling McMahon, NewsWhip’s VP of Onboarding and Implementation, Feb. 1, 2024

Internet Archive, Jesse Watters Primetime, FOX News, January 9, 2024 10:00pm-11:00pm PST, Jan. 9, 2024

NPR, A Taylor Swift Instagram post helped drive a surge in voter registration, Sept. 22, 2023

The Daily Dot, ‘What’s happening is not organic’: Why the right thinks Taylor Swift is a government PsyOp designed to swing the 2024 election, Dec. 7, 2023

Time, 2023 Person of the Year Taylor Swift, Dec. 6, 2023

Jack Posobiec post on X, Jan. 28, 2024

Laura Loomer post on X, Jan. 29, 2024

Benny Johnson post on X, Jan. 31, 2024

Reuters, NASA UFO panel in first public meeting says better data needed, June 1, 2023

Email interview, Sabrina Singh, Pentagon spokesperson, Feb. 2, 2024

The Washington Post, Jesse Watters gets Tucker Carlson’s 8 p.m. slot in Fox News shake-up, June 26, 2023

Us Weekly, Every Time Taylor Swift Attended an NFL Game to Cheer for Travis Kelce, Jan. 28, 2024

LinkedIn, Alicia Bargar, accessed Feb. 1, 2024

CNBC, Voter registrations skyrocket after Taylor Swift’s get-out-the-vote push, Oct. 9, 2018

NewsGuard’s Reality Check, Unmasking the Taylor Swift ‘Psyop Plot,’ Feb. 2, 2024

Taylor Swift post on Instagram, Oct. 7, 2020 

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