The Curious Case of Abbey A and the Question of Just What a Community Should Do

This article obviously references tweets made by people I know, like, and respect. Even if I disagree with these people on this issue, in most cases, I still respect them. I considered contacting people directly to let them know I was writing this but didn’t want to cause any arguments or further discord, so i’m writing this instead. Please know, this isn’t intended to ‘subtweet’ anyone, and in most cases, the positions or even wording I refer to are a composite approximation of many people’s. A full breakdown of what happened can be found here: http://lulzstorage.com/. Just an FYI, some of the content and images here may make for a difficult read.

If you’re a wrestling fan on twitter, and if you identify as a member of ‘wrestling twitter’, you will no doubt have seen mention of one of a number of controversies from Ric Flair selling then retracting branded sexual consent forms, to Powerbomb parting ways with co-founder Adam Lash over his public criticism of the streaming service broadcasting an IWA show featuring Michael Elgin, leading to strange debates about Powerbomb’s contractual obligations; and finally, the main event, the bizarre tale of ‘Abbey A’ and her clear faking of cancer and later death. The whole soup was a real mess, but this article will deal mostly with the Abbey A situation, and most specifically, what could, and possibly should happen to her as a result.

Until late last week, I had never to my knowledge heard of Abbey or read any articles or anything else by her while she was a somewhat well-known wrestling writer, so I had no preconceptions of her when I saw the story of her supposedly faking cancer and soliciting around $10,000 of donations for treatment. Indeed, when I first saw her tweets, I believed her and even tweeted something along the lines of ‘this is unbelievable, I can’t believe people are doing this to someone with cancer’. Moments later I was deleting that as it was clear that something was at least fishy about her situation.

A combination of twitter users did some digging, and the whole thing became, I admit, a bit addictive. One reason it garnered so much attention was that Abbey’s attempts to fool people, including the infamous use of a google image search picture of jelly, were so pathetically transparent that it made for easy jokes and memes. Another reason for it being such a talked-about topic was that it’s almost a caricature of evil – a person claiming to both friends and strangers that she had a terrifying terminal illness to grift money from them. As many people pointed out, no wonder it overblown comic and dastardly undertones appealed to wrestling fans so much.

Jello

Notable in it’s needlessness, Abbey faked nearly everything, even having a cup of jello. Credit: @Llamaoftruth

Though it was easy to laugh at Abbey’s ridiculous forgeries of doctors letters and the improbable appearance her ‘sister’ who took over her twitter after Abbey ‘died’, and to imagine what Abbey might do next, it shouldn’t understate how serious her crime is.

I want to be clear, what Abbey did isn’t serious because it’s a crime, but it is a serious crime. She defrauded many people of a total amount in to the tens of thousands of dollars across numerous crowdfunding sites. Yes, most contributions were fairly small, but not all of them, with some of them being substantial or repeated donations. I would also argue that the size of the donation is a minor point anyway. $20 could be a significant amount for someone who is kind enough to donate it – the reality of living poverty is a big reason why people create and donate to crowdfunders in the first place, so we shouldn’t assume these losses are insignificant. Indeed, not presuming is going to be a bit of a running theme here. My point is, this wasn’t a faux-pas, this was a con of people; many of whom clearly considered Abbey a friend. The fact that it was a particularly sick con – including the theft of a real (and unfortunately now deceased) cancer patient’s photo – doesn’t necessarily make it worse as a crime, but it does make it harder to forgive.

Drip

Abbey stole this image to legitimise her story. The picture is of Emily Agnew, who had died of cancer when Abbey used this picture Credit: @Llamaoftruth

Indeed, to my surprise, the final subplot of this whole messy saga was what exactly people should do about Abbey, if anything. While those at the forefront of outing Abbey encouraged those affected by her con to report her to the authorities, a not insignificant collection of twitter users, some of whom I genuinely respect a lot, started to openly mock and criticise the idea. One tweet that I think summed up this initial tone best read

“lol at all the fucking cops outing themselves on wrestling twitter right now”

Initially, I put this down to a kind of meme-style language you see online all the time, e.g. ‘if you believe X, you police’. To be fair though, this led to more detailed arguments, but arguments they were, and in time-tested twitter tradition,  these disagreements were drawn diametrically and with at least a sense of ill will; with, to paraphrase, one side believing that the police be informed about Abbey’s crime, and the other side not thinking so.

The ‘no police’ side’s argument, from what I can tell is that, while they didn’t like what Abbey did, they were worried that getting the police involved could be a mistake because she could end up being killed by the police. I don’t write that with any sarcasm, I understand the thinking. The world has seen many cases of the Police in the US, poorly trained and armed to the teeth, killing people and getting away with it, regardless of whether or not the person was a danger. I believe that most of the people cautioning against involving the Police indeed were just concerned about Abbey’s well-being and the potential of this befalling her being tragically disproportionate.

That said, I fall largely on the other side of the argument. While this fate absolutely can befall anyone, including white people, let’s not kid ourselves that the police are anywhere near the same level of threat to a white person suspected of fraud who they would go to investigate than they are to a young black man on the street. Similarly, even-though these tragedies do happen, the way people were talking about this, you would think it was likely that a call to the Police would end in the death of Abbey, with users discussing the weighing up of the crime with a person’s life. I’m no defender of killer cops, but even a suspicious person must concede that only a miniscule proportion of police call-outs, regardless of circumstance, will lead to death. I struggle with the notion that a logical person can reasonably believe Abbey being reported to the police would have any significant chance of leading directly to her death. It comes from a good place, but it’s hysteria.

There was another element to this argument, and that’s that the ‘no police’ side seemed to think that those who thought the police should be involved were ‘European’, didn’t understand the US justice system, and supported authoritarianism. Not only was this aspect of the disagreement insincere and needlessly partisan, but I don’t even think it’s true. In my line of work for a charity working with many of the most vulnerable in society, I am super suspicious of areas of government and police divisions, and I know all too well that the US and the UK at least share a lot of the same judicial problems. Our systems are geared to punish petty, largely victimless crimes as much as anything else (I’m thinking mainly of drugs, but there are many other similar kinds of crimes), and target vulnerable and/or minority groups disproportionately because that satisfies the tabloid right wing and boosts the profits of corporations involved with prisons. The only difference is that people aren’t shot in the streets in the UK because our police usually don’t have guns.

Fraud

Fraud is nothing new to Abbey, and there’s no reason to think she wouldn’t do it again if left to her devices. Credit: @Llamaoftruth

So I can’t stress enough that my belief that Abbey deserves to be reported to the Police doesn’t come from an authoritarian stance. If she was taking drugs or even defrauding a corporation (i.e. if she was committing a victimless crime, or a crime which only ‘punched up’) I would never support her being reported, but I can’t stress enough that I think there are real victims of her actions, and so restitution can and should be pursued for them at least without wringing our hands about it. People are assuming that ‘she must have needed the money’, that ‘she is obviously going through mental issues’, and/or ‘she needs help’ but do we really know that? As I say, I don’t really know anything about her personally, but they seem like leaps of logic for people to defend their position and make further assumptions that her victims don’t need the money, that her victims aren’t going through mental issues themselves, or that the trauma she has caused for people by deceiving them won’t create or exacerbate existing issues. These seem to be purely assumptions, but they are all in Abbey’s favour when, to be frank, I don’t believe she deserves that benefit of the doubt, especially given that further digging has shown that this isn’t her first time defrauding people and so it can be fairly deduced that a great deal of this was premeditated.

The next bit is not even an assumption on my part, but a general feeling – I can’t help but feel that giving Abbey so much the benefit of the doubt isn’t incidental, and that, in fact, it is to protect her from accountability. Abbey was a fairly well known personality in wrestling twitter, and one who seemingly outwardly displayed tendencies which are quite common in the community: e.g. mental health issues, depression, and, well, the love of this weird niche interest we share. Many people felt betrayed by Abbey specifically because they felt close to her, and I think this may explain why some of the ‘no police’ side are so protective – through the disgust at what she did, they possibly still recognise a peer they relate to, someone they like.

‘Accountability’ specifically has become a dirty word in this argument, but I think it’s exactly what should be aimed for here, partly because it’s something a lot of these recent wrestling controversies have lacked. Abbey has hurt people, stolen from people, sullied reputations, and on this occasion, has done so in a criminal way. I think that warrants a fair, balanced restitution. Her reputation is already shot, and whatever the punishment for the brand of fraud she has committed is, she deserves to face. Nothing more, but also nothing less. The wrestling community can’t go on shielding people from accountability – it’s a cloud that hangs over the whole culture and one that can really ruin the magic of it. While there isn’t equivalence in the crimes, we can’t in one breath call for the punishment of the likes of Bram and Elgin and then say it’s wrong to do the same for Abbey. Again, while the victims of what Bram and Elgin have done have suffered a lot more, there are still victims of what Abbey has done, and that shouldn’t be forgotten.

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