It appears to have begun in 2013 when a teenager named Emily Pattinson began overlaying quotes by Adolf Hitler on Pinterest photos of Taylor Swift as a joke, Buzzfeed reported. Swift’s lawyer J. Douglas Baldridge, sent Pinterest a stern letter, asking for the images to be removed. It said, in part:
The association of Ms. Swift with Adolf Hitler undisputedly is ‘harmful,’ ‘abusive,’ ‘ethnically offensive,’ ‘humiliating to other people,’ ‘libelous,’ and no doubt ‘otherwise objectionable.’ It is of no import that Ms. Swift may be a public figure or that Pinterest conveniently now argues that the Offending Material is mere satire or parody. Public figures have rights. And, there are certain historical figures, such as Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson and the like, who are universally identified in the case law and popular culture as lightning rods for emotional and negative reaction.
Pinterest refused to take it down, citing parody laws. But those same images now appear on The Daily Stormer, which bills itself as “the world’s most visited alt-right website.”
The site was founded by self-proclaimed white supremacist Andrew Anglin after he realized Internet users were more interested in quick-hit, meme-type content than the long essays on white supremacy he would post on his previous site, “Total Fascism.”
“My ideology is very simple,” Anglin told the Los Angeles Times. “I believe white people deserve their own country.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center dubbed it a “neo-Nazi website” and one of the two most popular “hate sites” online. Dylann Roof, the alleged shooter in the Charleston church massacre, was active on the site, and the idea of “white student unions,” which popped up around the country last November, percolated there.
The idea of Swift as an alt-right pop icon seems to have percolated there as well.
Along with the memes, the Daily Stormer has become home to several pages of articles praising Swift that bear titles like “Taylor Swift, Avatar of European Imperialism,” “Aryan Goddess Taylor Swift: Nazi Avatar of the White European People” and “Aryan Goddess Taylor Swift Accused of Racism for Behaving Like an Ape in a Music Video.”
“Taylor Swift is a pure Aryan goddess, like something out of classical Greek poetry,” Anglin told Vice’s Broadly. “Athena reborn. That’s the most important thing.”
Columnist Milo Yiannopoulos explained in Breitbart the alt-right thinks “Swift is covertly ‘red-pilled,’ concealing her secret conservative values from the progressive music industry while issuing subtle nods to a reactionary fanbase.”
Yiannopoulos wrote that Swift presents a perfect storm: she’s white, blonde and doesn’t speak about her politics. Meanwhile, she’s drawn criticism regarding race in recent years.
In Pacific Standard, writer Aaron Bady accused Swift of being “nostalgic for a time when you could be nostalgic for white supremacy” after her Africa-set video for “Wildest Dreams” came out, which also prompted the NPR headline “Taylor Swift Is Dreaming Of A Very White Africa.” Writer Camille Paglia inexplicably referred to her both as a “Nazi Barbie” and a “fascist” in a December column for The Hollywood Reporter. And, in 2009, a photo circulated the Internet showing her dancing with a man in a white t-shirt bearing a sloppy red swastika.
These are isolated incidents, but white supremacist websites have taken them out of context. For example, in the photograph, Swift wears a shirt with the letters “JH,” which someone on the neo-Nazi forum Stormfront claimed means “Jew Hater.”
If it all seems a little absurd, that might be the point.
The line between purported comedy and drop-dead seriousness is blurred throughout the Swift memes. Take this Facebook page, which includes many of those aforementioned memes. Liked by more than 19,000 people — and once removed by Facebook — it’s titled “Taylor Swift for Fascist Europe” and is tagged “comedian” but includes comments such as “Not all races are equal” and “Let’s show Muslims what a holy war really looks like.”
Its anonymous curator told Vice that Swift’s perceived innocence — the singer doesn’t curse and rarely finds herself in the crosshairs of sexual controversy — is partly what makes her an icon in the fascist world.
“Take Kim Kardashian or Miley Cyrus as examples of this: both began their lives with the same Nordic blood that Swift did, but what makes these two degenerates unfit for consideration as fascist icons?” the curator said. “It is because, although Aryan in blood, the two are not Aryan in spirit. To be Aryan in spirit is what completes the fascist.”
“It’s incredible really that she’s surrounded by these filthy, perverted Jews, and yet she remains capable of exuding 1950s purity, femininity and innocence,” Anglin said. “She is the anti-Miley.”
The blurred line between “comedy” and “hate speech” also helps make Daily Stormer so popular.
“I wanted something punchy and funny and enjoyable to read, and something that anybody can get something out of,” Anglin told the Los Angeles Times. “A lot of people on the Internet prefer to write long essays, which a lot of people don’t read, which have a limited audience.”
The memes can act as Trojan horses for ideology.
“Daily Stormer is a perfect example for me of the influence 4chan has had on the rest of the messaging machine for white supremacy,” Southern Poverty Law Center’s Keegan Hankes told The Daily Beast. And as Caitlin Dewey wrote in The Washington Post, the 4chan style of messaging often involves memes.
In the Daily Beast, Jacob Siegel wrote that Keegan “sees the style of racism originally perfected on 4Chan’s message boards—where the racism is only as effective as the meme that spreads it—as a template for Anglin’s site.”
If that’s the case, then Swift memes can be seen as serious or as jokes, and it doesn’t matter.
“A lot of the same images, a lot of the same rhetorical styles are being emulated on Daily Stormer and it’s pretty successful,” Keegan said. “The website has taken off.”
Swift has not responded again to these claims. In addition to heaping praise on Swift, the site also cheers on Donald Trump, The Post reported.