Why MAGA fears Taylor Swift at the Super Bowl

The Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce conspiracy illustrates how the MAGA cult controls its followers

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published January 31, 2024 6:00AM (EST)

Travis Kelce #87 of the Kansas City Chiefs (L) celebrates with Taylor Swift after defeating the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game at M&T Bank Stadium on January 28, 2024 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Travis Kelce #87 of the Kansas City Chiefs (L) celebrates with Taylor Swift after defeating the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game at M&T Bank Stadium on January 28, 2024 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Well, that spiraled rapidly.

On Sunday night, the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Baltimore Ravens, in a win that cinched a Super Bowl spot for the Chiefs. Much of the post-game celebration focused on the presence of pop star Taylor Swift, who smooched her boyfriend, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, and smiled winningly at the cameras. To normal people, this was a sweet moment and a chance for fans of both Swift's music and the NFL to coo over young (ish) love. To right-wing media and MAGA influencers, however, it was swiftly cemented as proof that white conservatives are under threat of annihilation from a deep state "woke" conspiracy to force a socialist revolution led by, uh, President Joe Biden. 

The hysterics kicked off shortly after the Chiefs victory, when failed presidential candidate and professional right-wing troll Vivek Ramaswamy 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.”

In case you're struggling to follow what he's saying, it's this: The Super Bowl is rigged in favor of a Chiefs win in February so that a "fake" celebrity couple gets even more attention, which they will then use to propel Biden to a win in November. Honestly, it makes Trump's conspiracy theories about a national cabal of election rigging sound lightweight. But the silliness of it did not stop the conspiracy from spreading rapidly through the right-wing media ecosystem. Nikki McCann Ramirez at the Rolling Stone documented how MAGA influencers kept claiming the Super Bowl is "the Democrats’ Taylor Swift election interference psyop" and the Super Bowl is "totally scripted" to "elect Joe Biden WW3 will likely follow in a 2nd Biden term and millions will die."

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Soon, the nonsense manifested on Fox News, which knows how to validate the lunacy, but in a soft-pedaled way that can sound less delusional on its surface than the crap on social media. 

Fox competitor OAN, however, feels no need to sound more respectable. They aired a segment Monday with a host claiming that sports "are nothing but a psyop," to get "kids plugged into the cycle of going to public indoctrination camps, playing sports at their schools, and going to games." She used the word "brainwashed" repeatedly and complained that it was a distraction from following Jesus. 

Now Trump himself is getting involved, reportedly raging that he is "more popular" than Swift and has more followers. 

If that sounds like a cult leader feeling threatened by the outside world, well that's no coincidence. The Swift hatred resembles the argument that cults and other high-control groups make to their followers: cut off all contact with the outside world, abandon everything that gives you joy and pleasure, and dedicate your entire life to the cult's ideology. Trump and his henchmen sound like David Koresh or Warren Jeffs for a reason. The MAGA media system, wittingly or not, leans heavily on a favorite tactic of cult leaders: painting the outside world as a threat. Paranoia and alienation are a cult leader's best friends. After all, if the followers discover people outside the group are normal and happy, they might start questioning the cult leader and seeking ways to escape. So it's best to make them afraid to even look out of their own windows. 

MAGA media has been stoking hatred of both Kelce and Swift for a while now.

For the older white reactionaries who make up the bulk of the Republican base, the couple is a focal point for their outrage at younger white people for being more open-minded and progressive than their elders. The rage has gone into overdrive with the two hooking up, however, as if these young lovers have no right to be together. It's another way the MAGA media operates by cult logic. High control groups often take a negative attitude toward romantic autonomy. Leaders will tell disciples who they are and are not allowed to date. They often escalate to picking spouses for members or forcibly breaking up their relationships. So it's no surprise that attitude is being projected outward, onto these celebrities in a very public romance. 

Last year, for an investigative report on the impact of social media on right-wing conspiracies, one woman I spoke to about her conspiracy theorist husband brought up the NFL in our interview. "He tried to convince me that the NFL was run exactly like the WWE, in that it was entirely scripted," she said of her husband, who she was already planning to leave. She brought this up, she said, because it illustrated how these political conspiracy theories are rarely self-contained. Her husband was enmeshed in a web of delusions that reached into every corner of his life. 

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That's why it's not a minor thing, the MAGA media pushing this idea that the NFL is "fixing" the Super Bowl. It's in the mix with the Big Lie and QAnon conspiracy theories, all part of the same tapestry of paranoia the MAGA leaders use to control the base. By telling adherents that everything around them is fake, rigged, or otherwise more sinister than what it seems, the leaders convince their disciples to distrust everyone and everything — except, of course the beloved MAGA figureheads.

The irony of this is that it inverts reality. Most of what MAGA calls "fake" or "rigged" is real. NFL games aren't fixed and neither are American elections. Swift's popularity is authentic, despite the MAGA crowd insisting it's made-up. There's no ulterior agenda to Kelce championing vaccines or Black Lives Matter. COVID-19 is not a hoax and Biden is not being puppeteered by Vice President Kamala Harris.

But the one person that the MAGA base puts their faith in — Donald Trump — is a lying sociopath, through and through. Which is why they insist that everything decent is corrupt and rotten. It's only in a topsy-turvy reality that they can convince themselves that Trump is the hero.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Commentary Maga Conspiracy Theories Right-wing Media Taylor Swift Travis Kelce Vivek Ramaswamy