Tucker Carlson makes a play for the Barbz

At the same time, Minaj’s mostly young, very online fans—known as the Barbz, after her alter ego Harajuku Barbie—found themselves called to defend her. While fandom is not about idolizing a celebrity to the point of believing everything they say, “Who do you stan?” is a question of identity and worldview. A Nicki Minaj stan who believes in science and the benefit of vaccines is now obligated to find a way to acknowledge or embrace Minaj’s vaccine hesitancy. On Twitter, it was possible to watch fans experience these personal, internal conflicts. And some political actors on the right seemed to see the unfolding events as something more: an opportunity for them to steer the force of stan culture…

Just a few days before the Met Gala controversy, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education—a nonprofit focused on college-campus free-speech issues, funded by right-wing heavyweights such as the Charles Koch Institute—published an open letter to Harvard in defense of a Nicki Minaj fan. The fan had tweeted a screenshot of an email from the university asking him to take down a flag that was hanging in his dorm’s common room window, which showed Minaj in a blue bikini, saluting the Stars and Stripes. “While perhaps not everyone at Harvard is a Barb, everyone at Harvard has the right to free speech,” an officer for the foundation wrote.