Backpage defense attorney Paul Cambria and Backpage defender Tony Ortega have a lot in common. They both hate religion.
The mask covering the atheistic, antireligious hatred of the gang on the defendants’ side of the Backpage.com scandal has been ripped off.
In a highly antagonistic cross-examination of an activist who led a religious revolt against the internet brothel, the pro-Backpage defender revealed his antireligious hate and bigotry.
Paul Cambria is the defense attorney for Backpage cofounder and former owner Michael Lacey who is on trial with four former employees facing 100 counts of conspiracy, facilitation of prostitution and money laundering. If convicted, the charges could put them behind bars for life.
Cambria launched an assault in the courtroom October 12, 2023, against Isaac Luria, a senior fellow in the Knight Program in Media and Religion at the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. Luria was with the Auburn Seminary Groundswell Project when it battled Backpage over a decade ago with a campaign that included a full-page opposition ad in the New York Times, a public protest at Village Voice Media headquarters, and letters to Backpage.com advertisers urging they cease their support of the adult prostitution and child trafficking website.
Cambria unleashed his defense strategy—misdirecting with religious bigotry and antagonism toward believers—pressing Luria on the witness stand, “Do religious leaders ask for money?”
Luria responded, “To help people.”
But Cambria wasn’t done.
He said, “C’mon, they ask for money all the time.”
“Technically yes,” Luria responded.
Then Cambria suddenly went even further in attempting to divert attention from the charges against his client, and with heavy antireligious overtones: “What about the issue of Catholic priests (molesting) young people?”
That’s as far as that line of provocative and unrelated questioning went. Government attorneys objected and Judge Diane Humetewa sustained the objection, cutting Cambria off.
But it was enough to show the depths the Backpage.com defense will go to, lacing its questions with antireligious bigotry and supreme disrespect toward people of belief.
Cambria has a reputation as the “pornographers’ attorney,” defending most notably the late Larry Flynt of Hustler magazine fame, in addition to representing pornography production companies.
After Flynt drifted into a short period of evangelical Christianity, he returned to his preconversion state, saying he had “settled into a comfortable state of atheism.” He also said “I have come to think that religion has caused more harm than any other idea since the beginning of time” and bluntly told Larry King, “I am just saying I don't believe in God.”
From defending Larry Flynt and Hustler, Cambria has taken a giant slide into the even more reprehensible world of Backpage. It is one thing to defend a porn magazine that is opened by choice. It is an altogether unconscionable level of depravity to defend child sex trafficking.
In 2017, Cambria showed his disrespect for religion by obtaining online ordination in the Universal Life Church, so he could officiate at the marriage of a colleague in his law firm. The New York Times wrote in 2015 that the Universal Life Church “pumps out ordinations at an assembly-line pace, almost mocking a process that usually requires years of seminary study.”
Paul Cambria shares his attitude about religion with antireligionist Tony Ortega, the vocal Backpage apologist, promoter and defender while editor of The Village Voice, also owned at the time by Lacey and James Larkin. (Larkin committed suicide in July 2023 prior to the trial starting.) Ortega was fired from the Voice in 2012 when his hate-filled obsession against Scientology, a chief opponent of Backpage and its child trafficking, drew too much attention to Backpage.
Since his Backpage days, Ortega and his wife Arielle Silverstein, both self-professed atheists, have made a career of attacking religions. Silverstein announced that she likes “nothing more than explaining to religious people why I dislike God.” She called Hispanic ministers “wackos” and “crazy,” blasted Orthodox Jews as being in “cults,” and called Christians “suckers.”
When the Covid epidemic began killing people, Ortega wrote sneeringly, “Is the pandemic right out of the Bible?”
“If the world really is ending, we thought it was time to prepare properly for Armageddon. By, you know, reading the damn thing. The Bible, that is.” Of the Bible, Ortega wrote, “Clearly, we’re in fable territory here, and taking it seriously is obviously a trap.” And he called God “this conniving, underhanded and petty biatch who is running things…. The Big Guy is such a small-minded wanker.”
A longtime associate of the Skeptics Society, Ortega was once introduced with the boast that “We’ve hit Jews, the Christians, Muslims, Mormons, Satanists, Buddhists—we hit everybody.”
That’s an apt motto for the Backpage antireligious cadre represented by Backpage defenders Paul Cambria and Tony Ortega.