Like any evangelical fad that gets enough public exposure to merit a closer look, Tim Ballard and the people who surrounded him at Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) look more sketchy by the day. Vice’s Anna Merlan has released a steady stream of detailed information about Ballard, his producers, and the organization’s fact-finding methods that deserve a thorough read. That said, here’s a quick summary in case you don’t want to feel gross enough to warrant a shower.
The biggest story is the news that Ballard’s departure from OUR earlier this year followed sexual misconduct complaints by 7 women who told the organization that Ballard invited them on his undercover missions to pose as his wife. Once he had them overseas, alone, and vulnerable, Ballard would pressure them into sharing a bed or a shower. He asked at least one “how far she was willing to go” to save kids, i.e. have sex with him to make their relationship appear genuine to human traffickers.
A spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also took the unusual step of denouncing Tim Ballard’s intimation about close ties to the Mormon organization. President M. Russell Ballard — no relation — and T. Ballard were friends for several years, but Tim’s “morally unacceptable” behavior had caused a rift between the 2 men, and there was no affiliation between the Mormon Church and OUR. T. Ballard allegedly told donors and others that Elder Ballard was involved in a for-profit business called Slave Stealers, a venture intended to help Ballard monetize his popularity in the conservative community.
Ballard also used his connection to the LDS Church to soothe concerns that OUR’s donors would be upset to learn that the organization’s “rescue missions” were based on evidence from self-proclaimed psychic Janet Russon. Russon’s connection to Nephi, a purported Mormon prophet who’s been dead for more than 2600 years, led to multiple raids with little to no backup intelligence, and no results. Ballard told multiple people that Elder Ballard, and by extension the Mormon Church, was aware of Russon’s role in intelligence gathering, which the Church denies.
Finally, there is video evidence of Paul Hutchinson, an anti-trafficking activist and executive producer of The Sound of Freedom, grabbed the naked breasts of an apparently 16yr old sex trafficking victim during a 2016 undercover operation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The details are disturbing enough that I won’t share them here, but the (failed) attempts to delete the video footage are clear evidence that Hutchinson and those with him knew what he’d done wouldn’t be viewed as appropriate by Mexican or US authorities. Hutchinson doesn’t deny the event, but swears Mexican police provided a sworn affidavit that the girl in question was actually 18. He has not produced the affidavit.
OUR’s mission and methodology have long been viewed with concern by more professional and legal anti-trafficking units and organizations. The reasons are simple enough to understand — if you tell a dealer you’re willing to pay top dollar for a 1964 Ford Mustang, he’s going to do everything he can to get his hands on one. It’s the same result if you tell a sex trafficker in Mexico or the Philippines that you’re looking for a specific type of victim. Though Ballard’s left OUR behind, word is he still intends a Senate run, and there’s potential for a sequel to The Sound of Freedom. Given the conservative impulse to huddle protectively around sexual predators like wildebeests facing a lion pride, we’re likely stuck with Ballard for a long time.