Who is Tony Ortega?
Tony Ortega is the hired blogger and tabloid source for a circle of anti-Scientologists and serves as their full-time puppet “journalist.”
A professed atheist, Ortega has long hate-mongered against religions and religious individuals, but he became obsessed with Scientologists for an obvious reason: When Ortega worked at The Village Voice, the Church of Scientology was instrumental in exposing his role in enabling child sex trafficking and rape through the paper’s advertising site, Backpage.com—the world’s largest online market for sex traffickers until it was shut down by authorities in 2018.
Ortega became notorious for using what The New York Times called “attack dog” tactics to smear critics, protect traffickers and dehumanize victims of sex crimes for the sake of profit. Ortega focused the majority of his retaliatory attacks on the Church of Scientology, to such an extent that his bosses terminated his employment in 2012. Ever since, Ortega has used his rabid disinformation tactics to smear the Church, protect bigots and criminals, and dehumanize Scientologists for the sake of antireligious hate.
Tony Ortega has never so much as toured a Church of Scientology. The extent of his information on the religion is what he takes from known antireligionists and individuals expelled from the Church for unethical and sometimes criminal conduct and who harbor even decades-long animosity. Paid to be their propagandist, Ortega willfully joins in their virulent campaign of inflammatory and bigoted blog posts, false reports, hate and harassment.
A paid tabloid blogger for anti-Scientologists
After his ouster from The Village Voice in 2012, Tony Ortega found support from several former Scientologists with whom he had developed relationships while at the paper. Ortega set up a blog and went to work for them, becoming the paid blogger and tabloid agent for their avowed purpose of harassing and harming their former Church and its leadership. One woman in particular, former mistress-for-hire Karen de la Carriere (aka “Snow Suzy” and “Doll Body”), became a permanent sponsor, paying Ortega what she calls “generous” sums for his antireligious and bigoted narrative.
“She [de la Carriere] was boasting and bragging to people that she owned Tony Ortega… because of the amount of money that she’d invested,” explained Mark Rathbun, Ortega’s one-time confidant, in a YouTube video. “She’s notorious for bragging about that.”
De la Carriere’s continuing subsidies prompted Ortega to gush in 2019: “If you only knew what a huge asset Karen has been to this place over the years. We are eternally grateful.”
Since 2013, Ortega has also profited as a propagandist for Leah Remini, a woman expelled from the Church of Scientology for her abusive and antisocial conduct. Ortega has been in lockstep with Remini throughout her incessant campaign of vengeance and harassment, including the A&E Aftermath show canceled by the network in 2019 after hate and violence linked to the series culminated in the murder of a Scientologist. Ortega has colluded with Remini and her partner, Mike Rinder, on multiple false reports to law enforcement and incendiary rhetoric that has incited hundreds of incidents of hate and violence against Scientologists.
Ortega further gained his most significant support in 2013 when he married Arielle Silverstein, an independently wealthy woman who refers to herself as a Jewish atheist and shares in his antireligious fanaticism. Silverstein has used online aliases to post inflammatory hate speech, including images lampooning Mohammed and comparing Jesus Christ to a dog’s anus, and racist and antireligious posts declaiming “Hispanic preachers” as “wackos” and “crazy,” ultra-Orthodox Jews as “cults,” and Christians as “suckers!” In a number of instances, Silverstein posted her hate speech while on the job, ironically, in the internal justice system of the United Nations.
Silverstein and Ortega joined in at least one of multiple hate rallies staged outside the Church of Scientology in Manhattan, during which participants hurled highly abusive and pornographic insults at Scientologists on the street. Abhorrent slurs ranged from “ugly,” “fat” and “stupid asshole” to “You should [get] liposuction on your f—kin’ stupid face” and “I’d like to blow my load all over your cheekbones” (one of the more minor graphic examples) while the group chanted “Suck our dicks.”
“Personally I sort of like how they make me laugh, gag and blush all at the same time,” posted Silverstein, who revealed herself as a hardline bigot, willing to bolster Ortega with her wealth and praise.
Tony Ortega facilitated and participated in an attempted coercive “deprogramming”
Ortega fosters hate and discrimination against Scientologists as the self-appointed head “Scientology watcher” of his “Scientology watching community”—a euphemism for his extremist followers. One need only replace that term with “Jew watcher” or “Mormon watcher” to see through Ortega’s hate prism. He encourages his “watchers” to target and harass individuals simply for their religion and leads by example.
Ortega proved he would have gone so far as to break the law to get an anti-Scientology “scoop,” facilitating and participating in the attempted coercive “deprogramming” of a young Scientologist woman in Los Angeles. Ortega coordinated five accomplices to take part in the attempt; he then joined them at a house to which the woman was driven under false pretenses. In a sworn declaration, the woman detailed her ordeal.
“I was essentially captive in the house… Tony Ortega sat nearby,” she wrote. “They were trying to intimidate me… it was 6 of them against me.” She described how, at one point, they surrounded her in a circle, and one threatened to tie her down.
Ortega was colluding with a tabloid TV reporter and crew who then ambushed and chased the woman down an L.A. street in what she described as a “terrifying experience.” Ortega was featured on the ensuing TV program, and the reporter was later fired.
It was one of well over 200 instances of Tony Ortega’s intimidation, harassment, smearing, doxing, trolling, and shaming of Scientologists.
Tony Ortega targets individual Scientologists for hate and harassment
Ortega targets individuals for no other reason than their religion in an effort to stir up hate and harassment, while applying sharp focus on those who have suffered a personal tragedy. In one salient example of his schadenfreude, Ortega harassed a mother who had just suffered the catastrophic loss of her child to suicide. Ortega contacted her the day after the memorial service, attempting to turn the family tragedy into an attack on her religion. Despite the mother’s objection and her plea to let her family grieve in peace, Ortega, with partners Leah Remini and Mike Rinder, unleashed a rash of hate and threats against the bereaved woman.
Ortega has devoted more than 100 blog articles to one private Scientologist couple alone. He obsessively dissects their lives, including adopted children—going so far as to track down the biological father of two sons to stir up discord—and the couple’s divorce. Ortega has also published private family photographs of Scientologists, including young children, consequently delisted by Google.
Ortega interferes in social functions of Scientologists, as in the example of a young mother who organized a Mother’s Day event at her church with her nondenominational “Ladies with Babies” group. Ortega contacted local corporate sponsors in an attempt to intimidate them into cutting support for the family-friendly affair, with its agenda of arts and crafts, exotic animals, and raffles with prizes.
Ortega is on record encouraging his “Scientology watchers” to harass businesses of Scientologists and boycott their products and services. At one point, he expressed his disappointment that targeted enterprises will not “suffer much of a dent,” but “we at least want our readers to be forewarned.” Ortega has repeatedly contacted employers, from the entertainment industry to NASA, to “warn” them that they employ “a Scientologist.” He feeds the employers scandalous and bigoted rumors about the Church in a blatant attempt to evoke bias against the Scientologists and possibly cost them their jobs.
Ortega and his hate followers also routinely use thinly veiled threats of smearing individuals who have a community association with the Church. He tracks down individuals to “warn” them into dropping their support, using such spurious claims as his “readers”—his extremist followers—“would not be happy” that the partnership is “legitimizing” Scientologists.
Ortega works to “delegitimize” and dehumanize Scientologists with his hate speech, name-calling them anything from “morons” to “sick f—ks.” He adds to a decades-long history of targeting and deriding religions and the religiously devout—from “Mormonism is fair game” and “Latter-Day Dolts” to “the Christian kookocracy” and “tithe-making suckers”—and proclaiming God a “petty biatch” and “small-minded wanker.”
“Ortega is a religious hatemonger, his blog a cesspool of hatred, intolerance, and exclusion,” posted one of a growing number of Ortega’s former followers who are fed up with his hate and harassment. “[He] Was then. Is now. Will forever be.”
Ortega seeks to normalize antireligious hate and crime
Ortega uses disinformation to justify and normalize antireligious violence and crime against Scientologists. Prime examples include:
Brandon Reisdorf, a California man, warned in April 2016 that he was “packing heat (gun on waist).” He drove to Los Angeles, twice hurled a hammer into the plate-glass window of a Scientology church, and threatened the life of the religion’s leader. Reisdorf was convicted of felony vandalism of religious property and placed under a criminal restraining order. Tony Ortega’s disinformation omitted Reisdorf’s threats, condoned his violence as a “manic episode,” and claimed that a “legitimate” religious organization would not have pressed charges. Reisdorf was since convicted and sentenced to a psychiatric facility following an unrelated crime.
Erin McMurty, a woman from Texas, smashed her car through the glass front of Austin’s Church of Scientology in December 2015, narrowly missing staff members and blasting glass into the children’s nursery. Ortega taunted: “Car turned Austin Scientology org into a drive-in.” Ortega smugly noted that the week before her crime, McMurtry shared a clip of him in a video podcast. He failed to mention that McMurtry gave shout-outs to him and his patron, Leah Remini—who she called an “inspiration”—before the rampage. McMurtry was convicted of a felony.
Andre Barkanov, an Illinois man with a record of 24 prior arrests, threatened the assassination of Scientologists and the Church’s ecclesiastical leader in 2015. Ortega criticized media who reported on the police investigation for “carrying water for the church.” He omitted that police confiscated live ammunition, a holster and a magazine upon raiding Barkanov’s home. He also failed to mention that Barkanov told police he was motivated by the anti-Scientology rhetoric of Leah Remini. Barkanov was convicted of felonies, served time, and is under a 10-year restraining order from the Church’s leader and staff.
A California man posted a threat of assassination and to blow up a Scientology facility in 2020. Ortega reprinted the threat in full and interviewed the man about a resultant visit from the local sheriff’s office. Typical of the anti-Scientologists’ hate campaign, Ortega publicized the perpetrator’s twisted claim that because the Church had now taken notice of him, he was in “fear for [his] safety.”
Tony Ortega’s long record of protecting perpetrators and criminal interests
In 2002, Tony Ortega first got himself noticed beyond the sphere of the alt-weekly tabloid chain he then worked for when he parodied two teenage girls who were abducted, raped and nearly murdered. Exploiting national news of the life-and-death ordeal, Ortega wrote an elaborate fake news story announcing the victims would host a new NBC-TV reality show featuring teenage contestants pursued by convicted sex offenders.
Ortega sparked outrage. As one journalist put it: “Tony Ortega takes two teenagers, already brutally raped… and editorially sodomizes them by appropriating their identities, putting lies in their mouths, and pimping them as shameless opportunists.”
It was the start of a pattern for Ortega. He would next come to the defense of pedophiles exposed in a groundbreaking TV investigative series in Kansas City in 2004. The investigation led local law enforcement to increase policing of chat rooms and the prosecutions of sexual predators. But Ortega smeared the news team and station as “pervert-obsessed” and slammed the evidenced realities of sexual predators online as a “sleazy ratings ploy” and an attempt to merely “scare” parents.
Ortega went on to gain notoriety as the vocal defender and victim-shamer for the child sex trafficking business on the classified advertising site Backpage.com.
The website, started in 2004, was the revenue engine for Village Voice Media (VVM), which published The Village Voice in New York City and the chain of other alternative weekly tabloid newspapers where Ortega had been employed since the mid-1990s.
VVM owners and Backpage.com co-founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin shuffled Ortega between their weekly tabloids in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Kansas City and Fort Lauderdale, and finally, to New York at The Village Voice in early 2007.
Over the next several years, Backpage.com grew into a hundred-million-dollar-a-year enterprise. Like the rest of VVM, Ortega thrived off Backpage revenue, more than 90% of which came from its “adult” ads.
“The people I work for were smart enough to start Backpage.com,” Ortega boasted in 2011, as evidence mounted of girls as young as 11 and 12 being pimped through its listings and abused, beaten and slain.
Tony Ortega’s complicity in child sex trafficking on Backpage.com
Backpage.com and VVM came under increasing fire from law enforcement agencies, members of Congress, journalists, and human rights and religious organizations. The Church of Scientology, in particular, took the lead in shedding public light on Tony Ortega as a chief enabler through his role with VVM.
— WAYNE BARRETT, VILLAGE VOICE VETERAN REPORTER
Ortega defended Backpage’s advertising policies in a string of deceptions, as long-term Village Voice veteran, the late Wayne Barrett, first revealed in an interview for the Church of Scientology’s Freedom magazine in 2011. Barrett said of the sex ads revenue: “Changes made by Ortega to the ad sales form have allowed the underaged ads to flourish.”
The potential implications of that statement were revealed in January 2017, when the U.S. Senate culminated a 20-month investigation in a damning report, “Backpage.com’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking.” Senate investigators detailed how Backpage changed its ad sales procedures to allow pimps to stealthily sell underaged girls through the site.
However, Ortega’s role in the enterprise had not only been deception and disinformation. His task was also to smear critics.
“[I]t’s really sad to see Village Voice Media become a major player in sex trafficking, and to see it use its journalists as attack dogs for those who threaten its corporate interests,” wrote The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in March 2012, referring to the VVM editorial staff, headed by Tony Ortega.
Ortega turned his attacks into an “obsession” with Scientology
No critic of Backpage.com was attacked by Tony Ortega more than the Church of Scientology, which continually exposed his role in the pimping operation.
Ortega joined in and championed Anonymous, then widely known as a hate collective and cyberterror group. He trivialized Anonymous crime sprees against the Church—including cyberattacks, vandalism, arson, and assassination and bomb threats—as the doings of “drunken teenagers” and “reckless hackers and pinheads.” The attacks resulted in multiple arrests and convictions of Anonymous leaders.
Ortega cultivated former Scientologists hostile to the Church as his “sources.” Through his Village Voice blog, Ortega channeled their agenda and ultimately surrendered to what a former Voice staffer called his “obsession” with Scientology. Ortega boasted of pounding out 465 blog articles on the Church between early 2011 and September 2012, when he was ousted from Village Voice Media.
Shortly thereafter, Ortega flew to Texas to see Mark Rathbun, who was leading the anti-Scientology circle at the time. Rathbun later recounted their conversation, wherein Ortega confided that his focus on Scientology at The Village Voice resulted in the Church bringing even more exposure to child sex trafficking on Backpage.com. The owners then decided to dismiss Ortega, who related the circumstances to Rathbun:
“To extract his [Ortega’s] cooperation in keeping quiet about what he knew… he literally agreed to cover it up and obstruct justice for a payout of, essentially, a two-year buyout deal,” Rathbun said.
Ortega kept up his end of the bargain and has stayed quiet about Backpage ever since. With his payout and support from anti-Scientologists, he embarked on his path of puppet “journalist.”
Abusive then and now
Tony Ortega has revealed his acrimony towards media who report impartially on the Church of Scientology, chiding them for “giving a media handjob” or “blowjob.” But that’s Ortega’s world. The only media cred he can try to bank on is that he was once editor at The Village Voice—where he enabled the pimping and raping of innocent children through the Backpage.com ads that paid his salary.
Former Voice staffers say Ortega drove the once-storied paper into the ground. If it wasn’t his firing of women—the Voice was “getting whiter, maler by the minute” under Ortega, per one media report—it was his all-consuming vendetta against the Church of Scientology or his abuse of journalists.
“He’s a twisted human being—a terrible guy,” said Wayne Barrett, the late Village Voice investigative journalist Ortega fired in December 2010. “He demeans people who work for him.”
“Ortega was easily the most abusive editor I have ever had,” posted Dr. Steven Thrasher, an assistant professor of journalism at Northwestern University, in April 2021. Thrasher said that when he wrote for The Village Voice, Ortega axed his story pitch about police killing a Black, mentally ill, homeless woman armed with a knife and screamed at him that the woman deserved to be killed. Thrasher further called Ortega out as “pretty much always abusive. Screaming. Hitting the table. Shrieking at people.”
Now, Tony Ortega abuses, screams, hits, and shrieks at Scientologists under the guise of “reporting” as an outlet of his bigotry and hate—paid by antireligious extremists as a full-time tabloid blogger to do precisely that.