A tradwife drops a racist slur: Why the right's trolling economy made Lilly Gaddis' rise inevitable

Cashing in as a "cancel culture" martyr is getting harder, so attention addicts have to get more extreme

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published June 17, 2024 5:45AM (EDT)

Woman in apron prepares soup on kitchen (Getty Images/-ilkeryuksel-)
Woman in apron prepares soup on kitchen (Getty Images/-ilkeryuksel-)

Let's stipulate up front that it is theoretically possible that Lilly Gaddis, wannabe "tradwife" influencer, did not realize what she was doing when she used the n-word in a recent cooking TikTok. Her defenders, far more numerous now than in her more anonymous past, offer an "innocence by ignorance" excuse. But even not knowing the story, you'd be right to be skeptical. After all, she didn't just let the word slip — she filmed, edited, and posted the content online. If you actually watch the clip that has gone viral, it becomes even harder to ignore the likelihood that it was a deliberate word choice.

In the video, Gaddis is decked out in the standard tradwife gear of a cleavage-baring sundress and a cross necklace to justify the sexualized marketing. She is vaguely arranging food while providing a rant tailor-made to tickle the reactionary male brain. She accuses immigrants and Black women of being "gold-diggers," while insisting Christian white girls like herself will love you, pathetic male viewer, solely for your masculine might, even if you are "broke." She is going for maximum shock value, dropping not just the n-word, but other five-dollar curses that are clearly meant to to offer a transgressive thrill, coming from a young woman playing at being a more scantily clad June Cleaver.

But just in case there was any lingering doubt that this was a deliberate play for attention, Gaddis soon confirmed it in a tweet responding to the outrage: "Thanks black community for helping to launch my new career in conservative media! You all played your role well like the puppets you are."

This wannabe Christian influencer is so obviously out for attention, so it's tempting to ignore this story in hopes of not letting her have it. Still, Gaddis is an important illustration of the vicious cycle of greed and far-right radicalism driven by the social media ecosystem. The field of strivers wishing to be America's next top troll is growing faster than can be maintained by the existing audience of incels, white supremacists and other miscreants radicalized online. Becoming the next big thing means attracting the coin of the authoritarian realm: liberal outrage. Yet as liberals get numb to the constant barrage of fascist provocation, the trolls have no choice but to up the ante. So this is how we get a woman in an apron pretending to cook on TikTok while dropping the most notorious of racial slurs. 

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This story also demonstrates how concerns over so-called cancel culture, which weren't especially sincere to begin with, have devolved completely into a grift. Gaddis was swiftly fired from her actual job at a home health services company, which noted in their statement that she was a "newly hired employee." To be sure, tradwives are rarely housewives to begin with. They're professional content creators who are creating a fantasy of female submission. It appears mostly for male viewers, as evidenced by the camera being focused more on their chest and not the often-unnamed dish they're supposedly demonstrating. But that Gaddis still had to work outside the home shows she wasn't quite making it work in the "cookie dough and MAGA rants" market. And it helps us understand why she felt the need to do something showy and attention-grabbing if she ever hoped to raise her profile. You know, like a housewife does. 

This might be one of those situations, like the dog-shooting story from South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, where taking the mask entirely off backfires on a right-wing troll.

Like many things MAGA, from Donald Trump selling Bibles to Alex Jones hawking supplements, there's a not-at-all hidden motive of separating fools from their money. Unfortunately, the political impacts of monetized trolling are all too real. The escalating shock tactics have a profoundly radicalizing effect on the audiences that tune in, largely composed of rudderless young men.

I've written previously about the male influencer version of this problem. Content creators like Andrew Tate lure credulous young men in with videos promising exercise and other self-improvement tips, only to steer them ever more towards far-right conspiracy theories and white supremacist rhetoric. Tradwives offer a different spin on the same hustle. These women, who often are not even married, present an eroticized fantasy of female submission. Once viewers are hooked, they get fed ever more fascist ideas. Media Matters did a study documenting this phenomenon which found TikTok's algorithm pushes "users who interact with 'tradwife' content" towards increasing levels of "right-wing conspiracy theory content." A user might start by watching a pretty blonde in a low-cut shirt stir something unknown in a bowl, but soon they were getting a flood of "medical misinformation and anti-government content, specifically fearmongering about the need to prepare for an impending 'civil war.'”

This might not seem like a natural fit at first, but in truth, enjoying the sexist fantasy of a "traditional" housewife primes a viewer to be more open to white supremacist and other far-right views. The audience for this content can be persuaded that the reason they don't have a sexy housewife of their very own is because of feminists and "big government" liberals. White nationalists push the "great replacement" conspiracy theory, which falsely claims that Jews and Democrats are secretly scheming to "replace" white Christian Americans with immigrants and people of color. Part of this theory involves accusations that the conspirators are suppressing the white birth rate by tricking white women into working and having fewer babies. Sexy girls baking cookies is the bait, but the trap is turning viewers into full-blown white Christian nationalists.

As for Gaddis, it remains unclear if dropping an n-bomb on TikTok is going to pay off well enough to replace that job as a salesperson for health care services. She's had some initial success as a "cancel culture" martyr. Mid-week last week, she had grown her Twitter following to 84,000. By Sunday, it had grown to nearly 118,000 and she was using her flush new audience to hype the literal Hitler fan Nick Fuentes. She got an interview on InfoWars, which is still drawing big audiences even as Alex Jones has to liquidate his empire to pay off over a billion in defamation lawsuits.

But this might be one of those situations, like the dog-shooting story from Gov. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., where taking the mask entirely off backfires on a right-wing troll. Much of the MAGA audience still pretends to have nobler intentions and not to be fascist merely for the pleasure of unvarnished cruelty. Plus, TikTok kicked her off its platform. She's stuck on Elon Musk's X, formerly Twitter, which is just running on fumes now. The aspiring troll really needs to be on TikTok to rack up the numbers that translate into cold dollars. While TikTok is only too happy to amplify straight-up fascist rhetoric, they still want their creators to be a little more euphemistic in their word choices. So while this may not work out for Gaddis, the pressures of the right-wing troll economy were such that such an event was inevitable. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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