ACLU Calls Out Taylor Swift for Fighting ‘Defamatory’ Story Linking Her to White Supremacy

“Not in her wildest dreams can Ms. Swift use copyright law to suppress this exposure of a threat to constitutionally protected speech,” ACLU lawyer says

taylor swift
Getty Images

The ACLU of Northern California is calling Taylor Swift out after the pop star and her attorney sent an “intimidating letter” to a blogger over an article titled “Swiftly to the alt-right: Taylor subtly gets the lower case kkk in formation.”

The pop star and her lawyer labeled a PopFront post as “defamatory” and demanded a retraction.

Now, the ACLU said in a letter to Swift that her threat of a defamation lawsuit is “meritless.”

PopFront editor Meghan Herning published the article on Sept. 5, which combines political speech and critical commentary, interpreting some of Swift’s lyrics. At the end of the post, the author calls for Swift to personally denounce white supremacy.

For example, “Taylor’s lyrics in ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ seem to play to the same subtle, quiet white support of a racial hierarchy. Many on the alt-right see the song as part of a ‘re-awakening,’ in line with Trump’s rise. At one point in the accompanying music video, Taylor lords over an army of models from a podium, akin to what Hitler had in Nazis Germany. The similarities are uncanny and unsettling.”

The post added, “In other words, these lyrics became the voice of the lower case kkk, and Taylor’s sweet, victim image is the perfect vehicle and metaphor for white supremacists’ perceived victimization… And considering Taylor’s fan base is mostly young girls, does the song also serve as indoctrination into white supremacy?”

According to the ACLU’s Monday statement, Herning received an “intimidating letter” from Swift and her attorney on Oct. 25, saying the blog post was “defamatory,” and demanded a retraction as well as a cease and desist. The letter also threatened a lawsuit.

“The story is replete with demonstrable and offensive falsehoods which bear no relation to reality or the truth about Ms. Swift,” read the letter. “It appears to be a malicious attack against Ms. Swift that goes to great lengths to portray Ms. Swift as some sort of white supremacist figurehead, which is a baseless fiction masquerading as fact and completely misrepresents Ms. Swift.”

While the PopFront story reads, “And there is no way to know for sure if Taylor is a Trump supporter or identifies with the white nationalist message, but her silence has not gone unnoticed,” Swift’s letter to Herning went: “Even if Ms. Swift had remained silent on the issue of white supremacy (which, as you will see below, she absolutely has not), silence does not mean support.”

However, ACLU or Northern California attorney Michael Risher said in the statement that the letter was a “completely unsupported attempt to suppress constitutionally protected speech.”

ACLU attorney Matt Cagle added, “Intimidation tactics like these are unacceptable. Not in her wildest dreams can Ms. Swift use copyright law to suppress this exposure of a threat to constitutionally protected speech.”

“All of this is core political speech that cannot possibly be defamatory because it is not even about Ms. Swift,” the ACLU letter read. “In short, your claims that the blog post has defamed Ms. Swift are completely unsupported. If the blog post’s interpretation of Ms. Swift’s lyrics were defamatory, your letter’s slanted interpretation of that post would be, too.”

The ACLU attorneys deemed the blog post opinion protected by the First Amendment. Herning, who reached out to the ACLU after receiving the letter, said in a statement, “The press should not be bullied by high-paid lawyers or frightened into submission by legal jargon. These scare tactics may have worked for Taylor in the past, but I am not backing down.”

PopFront is far from the first media outlet to link Swift to the alt-right movement. Just last year, Broadly published an article titled “Can’t Shake It Off: How Taylor Swift Became a Nazi Idol.” And Dazed wrote an article on the topic which spread on message board site Reddit (via Complex).

Swift’s spokesperson as well as her attorney have not yet responded to TheWrap’s request for comment.

Read the ACLU’s full letter to Swift here.