As America’s two favorite pastimes — football and intricate political conspiracy theories — collide in the runup to Super Bowl LVIII, a strange thing has happened.
Several conservative commentators announced that they plan to root for San Francisco, a city that has long served as a bête noire to far-right America, with politicians and media outlets alike usually vilifying it as an acrid emblem of progressivism run amok.
The nascent 49ers fans declaring their unlikely allegiance are hardly driven by Bay Area devotion or Candlestick Park nostalgia. Rather, they are vocally sticking it to Taylor Swift, the nation’s biggest pop star and new-ish girlfriend of Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who will be facing off against the 49ers on Sunday.
Swift has been at the center of a series of sprawling but unfounded right-wing conspiracy theories that allege she is somehow in cahoots with the NFL to hurt Donald Trump’s chances in the 2024 election and hand victory to President Biden in November, among other things.
Swift endorsed Joe Biden in 2020 and her Super Bowl-bound boyfriend has appeared in Pfizer advertisements encouraging Americans to get COVID-19 vaccines. There is no evidence that she colluded with the NFL to guarantee her boyfriend a spot in America’s biggest sporting event, nor is there any evidence that she plans to endorse Biden at the end of the big game, as some theories allege.
On Sunday, conservative sports pundit Clay Travis took to Fox News and declared he would be “proudly supporting the San Francisco 49ers, America’s team, on Sunday against Kansas City, Patrick Mahomes, Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce.”
The new love for San Francisco, which has been echoed on right-wing social media in recent days, is particularly surprising given how the city is typically depicted on the airwaves of Fox News and other conservative outlets: as a putative Sodom and Gomorrah, where the streets are coated with feces and fentanyl, and good old fashioned American values come to die (but only after they’ve donned a nice leather harness and marched in Pride).
“We don’t need their support. We don’t want their support. San Francisco will be just fine without them,” state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) — a local firebrand and former chair of the California Legislative Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Caucus known for his efforts to legalize psychedelics, allow bars to stay open til 4 a.m. and build more housing — said of the newest 49ers fans. “Conspiracy theorists are very, very bad energy. We don’t need that negative energy.”
Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco), who plans to attend the Super Bowl with his father on Sunday, conceded that it was “a little strange to see people who usually hate San Francisco now cheering for San Francisco.”
“They hate Taylor Swift even more, I guess,” he said.
Right-wing commentator and journalist Nick Sortor appears to have jump-started the unlikely MAGA-S.F. lovefest with a tweet last Saturday, after the Chiefs secured their place in the Super Bowl.
“I haven’t given a crap about the NFL since all their ‘Black Lives Matter’ BS,” Sortor said. “But I’m now a 49ers fan specifically to see Taylor Swift and that Pfizer guy go down.”
In a slightly inconvenient detail for Sortor, the 49ers were also the longtime home of Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback who famously took a knee during the national anthem to protest police violence against people of color.
Another far-right influencer, Rogan O’Handley, who utilizes the nom de guerre DC Draino on the platform X, added fuel to the fire for his more than 1 million followers the next morning.
“I know we’ve all been roasting your city for years, but I am offering a 2 week truce,” Handley wrote. He and his brethren would curb their anti-San Francisco commentary, he said, while “99% of America” becomes temporary 49ers fans, because if they didn’t, “Mr. Pfizer and his girlfriend are going to tour the country as ‘world champions’ helping elect Joe Biden.”
The irony is deepened by the fact of the Chiefs’ own geographic provenance: Kansas City may be a small urban island of relative blue, but President Trump defeated Biden in 2020 by more than 15 points in the surrounding state of Missouri. Except for Illinois, home to the divisional cellar-dwelling Chicago Bears, every other state surrounding Missouri also backed Trump in the last presidential election.
California, by contrast, favored Biden by nearly 30 points, while a mere 12.7% of San Franciscans marked ballots for Trump in 2020. (It would be remiss not to note at this point that the San Francisco 49ers actually play in the city of Santa Clara, about 45 miles southeast.)
“This is the détente that Gavin Newsom and Ron DeSantis were looking for,” San Francisco political consultant Peter Ragone quipped with a laugh about the newfound right-wing San Francisco fandom.
Ragone, a former Newsom advisor, was referring to the Florida governor’s obsession with the city. The fixation figured broadly in DeSantis’ ill-fated GOP presidential bid and his November prime-time debate with California Gov. Gavin Newsom, where DeSantis proudly wielded a “poop map” of the city and declared that the former San Francisco mayor had made it “a template for California’s collapse.”
Alas, a détente between the rival governors doesn’t appear to be in the cards just yet, regardless of what’s happening in certain corners of the right-wing internet. DeSantis held a news conference Monday where he stood in front of a podium emblazoned with the words “Don’t allow Florida to become San Francisco.”
Newsom, a Democrat who has been traveling the country to campaign for Biden, tapped into the furor over the weekend, calling GOP criticism of Taylor Swift “sad and pathetic” during an MSNBC interview.
He’s still pulling for the Niners, though, as he always has.