Unemployed since 2012, Tony Ortega pretends to any he believes are gullible enough to accept it that he is a “reporter” who “covers” Scientology. In much the same way a white supremacist controlling an anti-Semitic chatroom might assert himself an authority on Jews and Judaism, Tony Ortega styles himself an “expert” on the Scientology religion.
The reality is far less illustrious. Ortega is a hate blogger who lives off his wife’s salary and writes snide, grotesque daily rantings on the internet fringe to feed his “audience”—a small group of rabid anti-Scientologists he radicalizes with antireligious propaganda and disinformation.
Far from being an “expert,” Tony Ortega has never been a Scientologist, has never been inside a Church of Scientology and has no knowledge of the Scientology religion.
Described by former colleagues as “twisted,” “abusive,” and anti-Scientology obsessed, Ortega counts as his proudest achievement, over the course of his decade of unemployment, a full-time anti-Scientology harassment campaign—one involving thousands of postings intended to intimidate, smear, dehumanize and shame Scientologists.
Referring to the religious beliefs of Scientologists as “fake news” and inferring all Scientologists are liars, Ortega has systematically stalked and endeavored to “out” Scientologists in their personal and professional lives. Tony Ortega’s “reporting” comes exclusively in the form of threats and harassment such as:
Ortega posts gleefully about recently deceased Scientologists, attempting to blame Scientology for their passing.
Ortega employs his fringe platform to give daily voice to what can only be described as his deep-seated, un-American objection to the right of Scientologists to practice their religion in peace.
On December 14, 2015, Erin McMurtry, fueled by anti-Scientology hate speech, drove her car through the front of the Church of Scientology Austin and crashed into the nursery. Tony Ortega’s blog read: “Car turns Austin Scientology org into a drive-in.”
Like many fanatics and bad actors, Ortega has a checkered past. He was dismissed from Village Voice in 2012; in discussing the reasons for Ortega’s departure, a former staffer at the Voice complained to the New York Observer that Ortega was “increasingly obsessed with Scientology and had neglected almost all of his editorial duties at the paper.”
While at Village Voice, Ortega spent years defending Backpage.com, the Voice’s primary source of funding and a site that facilitated child sex trafficking. Backpage had become the largest online sex trafficking site in the world before its seizure by federal law enforcement agencies in April 2018. Ortega’s former bosses, who he gloated were “smart enough to start Backpage,” were arrested and are under federal prosecution. (Anti-trafficking advocates have campaigned for Ortega to be pulled into the Backpage trial.)
Minors trafficked on Backpage include a teenager who describes being gang-raped, choked and forced to perform sexual acts at gunpoint. Another was stabbed to death and another murdered in 2017, with her corpse burned.
As but one example of Ortega’s role in serving as apologist for the site, he attacked a CNN reporter for her exposé of the child exploitation on Backpage, accusing the network of “junk science” and “mass paranoia,” criticizing the broadcast as a “sensationalistic piece” that was “manipulative,” part of “a semireligious crusade” and feeding “the current panic about a nonexistent epidemic of sexual slavery.”
Ortega’s former bosses, who he gloated were “smart enough to start Backpage,” were arrested and are under federal prosecution.
Former Village Voice investigative journalist Wayne Barrett described Ortega as “a twisted human being, a terrible guy” who “demeans people who work for him.”
Dr. Steven Thrasher, assistant professor of journalism at Northwestern University, came forward in April 2021 with his own account of working with Tony Ortega: “Ortega was easily the most abusive editor I have ever had.” Thrasher described how when he was writing for The Voice, Ortega responded to Thrasher’s story pitch about the killing of a Black homeless woman. “I still remember the humiliation of him screaming at me in front of the staff on that day. How could I be so stupid, he screamed, not to get that the woman deserved to be killed by the cops?”
Ortega was “always abusive,” wrote Thrasher. “Screaming. Hitting the table. Shrieking at people.”
Ortega’s resumé prior to his time at Village Voice is equally disgraceful. In August 2002, New Times Los Angeles published a story written by unknown writer “Antoine Oman” entitled “Survive This! The two girls kidnapped and raped in the Antelope Valley are set to go to Hollywood.” The piece claimed a forthcoming NBC series pilot would star a pair of brutally raped teenagers as hosts of their own primetime reality show, which would feature real-life paroled repeat sex offenders.
The article was soon exposed as a fraud written by then-staffer Tony Ortega. Even as he was being outed as “Antoine Oman,” Ortega compounded the lie by writing yet another phony piece claiming the fictional writer had been fired for his transgression.
Investigative journalist Wayne Barrett described Ortega as “a twisted human being, a terrible guy” who “demeans people who work for him.”
The Daily Cannibal, a media watchdog website, wrote: “Tony Ortega takes two teenagers, already brutally raped by thugs, and editorially sodomizes them by appropriating their identities, putting lies in their mouths, and pimping them as shameless opportunists.”
Three years later, Ortega wrote yet another fabricated story under another fake name, this time a cover story in The Pitch in Kansas City entitled “Rebel Hell” by “Cesar Oman.” Written as a news story, Ortega claimed city records showed a Confederate gravesite was found during the building of a new arena.
The story was entirely false. The press secretary for then-Missouri Governor Matt Blunt told the Kansas City Star she was “extremely disappointed that a publication purporting to be a news outlet would print a satirical, fantastical article and not identify it as such.”
Columbia Journalism Review, for its part, printed the following: “Let us count the ways in which this is wrong. It was bad enough that the spoof took cheap shots at politicians, put words in their mouths, and betrayed readers’ trust at a time when the media’s credibility is at an ebb. But the official explanation—that The Pitch raised “Rebel Hell” just because it could—is simply inexcusable. Journalism has enough problems without inventing pranks that suck in both citizens and government officials. There is a place in journalism for both smart social commentary and an irreverent take on local buffoonery in office. But fooling your readers, and then hooting at them for being fooled, qualifies as neither.”
As an unemployed hate blogger, Ortega is financially supported by his wife, Arielle Silverstein, a United Nations employee described by a fellow anti-Scientologist as the “power behind the throne” of Ortega’s internet hate domain.
Like her husband, Silverstein has a documented history of religious intolerance and discrimination against minorities. Using a pseudonym, Silverstein promotes her online bigotry through postings referring to Christians as “suckers,” declaring her “dislike” of and refusal to work with Orthodox Jews, and making sweeping assertions about “Muslim society” and its “unhealthy” attitudes.