No, Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce Didn’t ‘Rig’ the Super Bowl

Conspiracy theories are swirling around Taylor Swift and her football-player boyfriend Travis Kelce.
Conspiracy theories are swirling around Taylor Swift and her football-player boyfriend Travis Kelce.

Summary

Conspiracy theories about Swift, Kelce, the NFL and the Democratic Party are spreading widely this Super Bowl season. Here, we dig into their origins and why their theses are baseless.

As the Kansas City Chiefs prepare to play the San Francisco 49ers in Las Vegas this Sunday, conspiracy theories are swirling around Taylor Swift and her football-player boyfriend Travis Kelce. They have taken on a distinctly political shape: Will the couple endorse President Biden for re-election? Is Swift part of a government influence campaign?

The theories, some old and many new, are not based in fact. Instead, they rest on conjecture, false assumptions and tenuous links to public gestures the two have made over the years. Since 2018, Swift has endorsed Democratic politicians—including Biden in 2020—and encouraged people to register to vote. Her tight-end boyfriend has appeared in ads for Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine and Bud Light, and has kneeled during the national anthem at games, a form of protest popularized by Colin Kaepernick. But neither has gone as far as to appear at campaign rallies, as other stars have. Representatives for Swift and Kelce did not respond to requests for comment.

The two are now at the center of fast-moving conspiracy theories related to the American government, Biden, George Soros and the National Football League. Here, we explain and debunk three prominent ones.

False Theory No. 1: The Department of Defense is using Taylor Swift as a ‘psyop’

Mike Benz, a conservative broadcaster and former State Department official under Trump, shared a video in January from a 2019 educational conference organized by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. The clip, which he aired during a livestream and in other posts on X, shows Alicia Bargar, then a Johns Hopkins researcher, giving a presentation about fighting misinformation. One slide features a picture of Swift, whom Bargar uses as an example of a person whose social influence could be helpful for countering misinformation.

Benz used this video to suggest that Bargar was a Pentagon representative pitching the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on using Swift as a psychological-operations asset—in other words, to spread propaganda and sway American beliefs.

His theory hinges on several false inferences. At the time of the conference, Bargar was about to become an employee at Graphika, a social-analytics company—and one that Benz has accused on social media of working with the Pentagon to try to censor online information about events like the 2020 election and Covid-19. A spokeswoman for Graphika said that while it had contracts with the Department of Defense, its focus was on combating misinformation.

In a statement, Benz maintained that he believed the presentation had proposed using Swift as a political agent, and cited other leaders who had requested Swift’s influence in their campaigns. Last month, a European Union official publicly asked Swift to try to encourage voter registration in Europe when her Eras Tour begins there in May.

Bargar, the researcher, said in a statement: “I have no connection to the Pentagon or NATO. This was an academic presentation at an open conference for discussing cyber security challenges. Taylor Swift was an incidental example of a famous person to explain a social network analysis concept to the audience. This is a commonly used approach in academia to make theoretical concepts easier to understand."

After Benz shared the theory, Jesse Watters elevated it on his Fox News program with a segment titled “Is Taylor Swift a Pentagon Asset?" Bargar said she hadn’t been contacted ahead of the segment. A representative for Watters declined to comment.

The presentation Bargar gave was about how to recognize and fight against theoretical misinformation campaigns. Swift was only briefly mentioned when Bargar provided examples of how to combat misinformation, including working with famous people to spread accurate information. She flagged concerns that come with this approach, including the potential to spread more inaccuracies. In the presentation, Bargar included a screenshot of Swift’s 2016 Instagram post telling people to vote.

Major Charlie Dietz, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, struck down rumors of any involvement between Swift and the Pentagon.

“They’re simply not true," Dietz said in a statement.

“Our psychological operations are serious business, handled by professionals trained for exactly that kind of work," he added. “We don’t draft celebrities into our ranks."

“While we love Taylor Swift songs as much as the next person (and yes, I watched the whole Era Tours 3+ hour long movie), weaving her into conspiracy theories about psychological operations is a leap too far," he added.

False Theory No. 2: The NFL playoffs were engineered to get Swift to the Super Bowl for a halftime-show political endorsement

This theory had been circulating for several months, but reached new heights when the Kansas City Chiefs secured their spot for the Super Bowl.

Ahead of the Chiefs’ victory at the AFC playoffs last week, broadcaster and Trump supporter Mike Crispi said the NFL was “rigged" so that the Chiefs would go to the Super Bowl, therefore paving the way for Swift to emerge during the halftime show and endorse Biden for re-election. Though he suggestively teased that he might have been joking in the days that followed, versions of this theory have spread on Reddit and X, including the claim that their relationship is manufactured. Some proponents of this theory have seen Kelce’s support for Pfizer and Bud Light as evidence that he is being paid to promote Democratic policies. Bud Light became the center of a culture war and a boycott last year after the company used a transgender influencer in advertising.

Most of these theories don’t factor in an explanation for how a series of live televised football games over the course of several months could be rigged. Representatives for the NFL did not respond to requests for comment.

On Jan. 29, former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy posted on X: “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 a statement, Biden campaign spokesman Kevin Munoz equated the promotion of these theories to bullying and attacks from conservatives.

Tricia McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for Ramaswamy, said his post was meant to be facetious, even if some of his followers took him seriously.

“He never once said there was a fix," McLaughlin said. “Vivek’s X post was tongue-in-cheek and lighthearted."

False Theory No. 3: George Soros “owns" Taylor Swift and has turned her into an advocate for the Democrats’ political agenda

In December 2019, Swift publicly criticized the sale of her music catalog during an acceptance speech at the Billboard Music Awards, claiming that she had been told “the Soros family" had partially funded the deal to purchase her music. She repeated the claim a few months later on her social media.

Some conservative theorists have pointed to these pronouncements as proof that the Soros family controls Swift. These theorists have claimed that Soros, a major Democratic political donor, is behind Swift’s push for Democratic politicians and liberal causes following the sale of her catalog.

But this timeline doesn’t hold up. Swift waded into politics in a significant way for the first time in 2018, before the sale, when she endorsed two Democrats for Tennessee’s midterm elections. She did so again in early 2019 when she publicly appealed to Tennessee’s then-Senator Lamar Alexander to support the Equality Act against LGBTQ discrimination.

A spokesman for Soros’s nonprofit Open Society Foundations said in a statement that the theories were “preposterous." A spokesman for Soros did not respond to requests for comment on the music deal.

“People need to be suspect about where they get their news from and ask themselves who is benefiting from the spread of these untruths," the Open Society Foundations spokesman said.

Write to Ashley Wong at ashley.wong@wsj.com

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