Despite his obvious and often unhinged bias against Scientology, Tony Ortega sometimes displays enough intellectual honesty to redeem himself as a journalist who wants to be taken seriously.
I’ve been reading and re-reading his recent series of articles on the unlicensed mental care facility set up by Scientologists in the back woods of Tennessee. And despite his manipulative use of terms like “hellhole” and “house of horrors” to describe the facility, which were clearly used to cloud his readers’ judgment, Tony Ortega also provided one glimmer of legitimate journalism when he allowed the brother of one of the people living there to express his viewpoint.
I scoured the Internet for the reporting on this story and almost every story I found was pretty much a cut and paste job of the Courier’s original story. But in the most valuable article in his series, Tony Ortega actually called family members and spoke to them. And then he reported what they had to say – even when what they had to say went against his own bias against Scientology.
Tony Ortega displays the objectivity that this community needs when he interviews the Scientologist whose sister was staying there, and in doing so, he points the way to his own redemption as a journalist.
After reporting that the young man who made the call to 911 had his cell phone on him at all times, Tony then interviewed the Scientologist brother of one of the women that the family had placed there:
We heard a very different story when we talked to the older brother of the woman who was rescued in Tennessee. She too was brought home to California, and she’s now being housed at a mental hospital. And her brother — we’ll call him Ed — is very unhappy about it.
Ed is a Scientologist who works at a drug rehab center which used to be part of Scientology’s Narconon network. The clinic cut ties with Narconon and Ed assures us that the clinic no longer uses Scientology methods.
But Ed himself is still a church member, and he’s angry about Marc Vallieres being criminally charged and his Life Center for a New Tomorrow being shut down.
“My sister was OK when she was there, and now she’s in a mental hospital in San Jose. She hasn’t had a shower in two weeks. Her condition is horrible*,” Ed tells us.
“Whatever Marc is doing is a godsend. I’m on the other side of this issue,” he says. “My sister’s in a hospital where they don’t let her go through the food line, they don’t let her have any utensils. She has a rash on her face. She’s gained 40 pounds since she was with Marc. Marc is a lifesaver. I wish he was still open so I can put her there again.”
We asked him what kind of treatment his sister was receiving at Vallieres’ facility — was he aware that the baby watch had been used there? Ed says that Vallieres was doing “CCH 1” with her because she was “Type 3” — Scientology’s jargon for psychotic — “so she was in a quiet environment,” Ed says.
We learned about CCH 1, one of the “control, communication, havingness” exercises that are common to Scientology, from former church official Claire Headley in our “Up the Bridge” series: “In CCH 1 the two people sit opposite each other and one says ‘give me that hand,’ to the other, over and over.”
And the point of the exercise, and of keeping her in a quiet environment?
“They’re trying to eliminate the multiple thetans that were making her life hard to live,” Ed says.
(When Scientologists reach the “OT 3” auditing level, after several years of indoctrination and several hundred thousand dollars in costs, they learn that we are not individual beings, but that each of us is infested with hundreds or thousands of unseen souls — “body thetans” — which came to Earth some 75 million years ago in a galactic genocide.)
“I’ve been there multiple times. She was clean and she had clean clothes on. Sure, Marc’s place isn’t the best. But people there, they are hard on the place. They break windows and beat on the walls. Yes, she’s at a hospital now. But is her life good? No. Is she vibrant? No. At least in Tennessee she could go outside, breathe fresh air and have good nutritious meals,” Ed says. “I would say Marc is a saint.”
We asked him if he knew what Vallieres was going to do after his facility was closed down.
“I don’t think the place was shut down, but he decided to leave the state,” Ed says, but he declined to tell us where Vallieres was going.
We reminded Ed that his sister was found by sheriff’s deputies in a squalid cabin that had been padlocked from the outside.
“Sure, that’s what the sheriff says. Maybe they were locked inside for a few minutes to keep them from running around. The sheriff has nothing to say. They torture people daily,” he responds.
We asked him if his sister had been diagnosed as either bipolar or schizophrenic, and he said that she’d been diagnosed with both. But he’s angry that she is being held in a hospital and he can’t get her out.
“The side effects of the medications they put her on? It’s horrible. She’s a ward of the county and we can’t get her out of there. We need more places like Marc’s,” he says.
Is this brother’s intention to harm his sister by leaving her under Vallieres’ care? Does he have specific and very real-world experience when he compares the treatment his sister has received in standard psych wards vs Marc Vallieres facility?
Why have Exes, such as Chris Shelton, completely flipped from not trusting psych’s at all to now never questioning anything they say or do?
My point: Tony Ortega’s reporting here allows those questions to be asked.
This is the road that Tony Ortega can take out the demagogic hellhole of his Underground Bunker, and up into the light of objective journalism. But it will require his recognition of the right of a Scientologist to exist, and to treat the way they see things for their own lives, and from their own perspective, objectively. He has done that here with a brother who loves and who struggles to take care of his own sister.
This is Tony Ortega’s road to redemption.
And for Ex-Scientologists who have completely flipped and who now refuse to recognize anything good or even real in who they used to be as a Scientologist, it might just be the road to redemption for us all.