For immediate release

April 11, 2020

Sex Trafficking Promoter Exploits Global Pandemic to Harass Religion, Calls Bible “Awfully Silly”

With thousands falling ill daily, sex-trafficking promoter Tony Ortega viewed COVID-19 as an opportunity to stir up hate against religion.

He first intentionally misrepresented a bulletin issued to all Scientologists.

The bulletin, issued on March 13, announced that the Church’s policy in responding to COVID-19 would be one of extensive prevention, with all possible measures taken. This included cancelling gatherings and events, producing and disseminating informational booklets on how to stay well, utilizing aggressive antiviral decontaminants and implementing a stringent system of medical checks and isolation—all actions taken by March 13.

Tony Ortega
Sex trafficking promoter, Backpage.com defender and hate blogger Tony Ortega

In an effort to continue his propaganda and harassment campaign against Scientologists, Ortega attempted to exploit COVID-19 to discriminate against the Church, promoting to tabloid media that, despite all evidence to the contrary, the Church thought the coronavirus did not exist.

While millions turn to their faith to find solace in the midst of this global pandemic, Ortega next posted a blog which described the Bible as “awfully silly,” referring to the book of Christian scripture as “the damn thing.” Ortega’s anti-Christian content echoes that of his wife, UN employee Arielle Silverstein, who runs her own online antireligious campaign.

“The people I work for were smart enough to start Backpage,” Ortega boasted, referring to his former bosses, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, both under federal indictment for facilitation of sex trafficking.

Ortega, an unemployed blogger, is best known for his promotion of Backpage.com, which had become the largest online sex trafficking site in the world before its seizure by federal law enforcement agencies in April 2018. Minors trafficked on the site include a teenager who describes being gangraped, choked and forced to perform sexual acts at gunpoint. Another was stabbed to death and another murdered in 2017, with her corpse burned.

Backpage.com website seizure alert

“The people I work for were smart enough to start Backpage,” Ortega boasted, referring to his former bosses, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, both under federal indictment for facilitation of sex trafficking. In attacking CNN for seeking to bring greater awareness to the tragedy of child sex trafficking, Ortega described the channel’s coverage as creating “the current panic about a nonexistent epidemic of sexual slavery.”

With Lacey and Larkin set to stand trial this August, many have asked why Ortega has not been charged as a coconspirator.

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