The Operation Underground Railroad founder parted ways with the controversial anti-trafficking group before the release of a movie exaggerating his rescue missions
Tim Ballard, whose purported rescues of sex-trafficking victims were fictionalized in the hit summer movie Sound of Freedom, earlier this year left the advocacy group he founded after an internal investigation of sexual misconduct claims, sources familiar with the organization have confirmed. Ballard did not return a request for comment on the allegations.
According to Vice News, which corroborated reporting from Utah journalist Lynn Packer, Ballard stepped down as CEO of the anti-trafficking nonprofit Operation Underground Railroad amid complaints from seven women who said he made inappropriate advances in the course of missions abroad. His accusers — who have remained anonymous for fear of retaliation — alleged that Ballard would have different women pose as his wife during these trips, a pretext he used to suggest sharing a bed or showering together to maintain cover. The complaints detailed incidents in which Ballard allegedly sent a photo of himself in his underwear to one female OUR employee, and asked another how far she was willing to go to save children. As yet, none of Ballard’s accusers have spoken to the media.
The nature of the complaints first emerged in an anonymous letter sent to OUR staff and donors this summer about the circumstances of Ballard’s quiet departure. (OUR has since dodged questions around why Ballard resigned right before the release of the hagiographic Sound of Freedom.) The letter claimed that a sexual harassment complaint against Ballard from an OUR employee who accompanied him on an undercover operation led to an “extensive internal investigation” into Ballard’s “operational tactics,” which led to more women coming forward against him.
“It was ultimately revealed through disturbingly specific and parallel accounts,” the letter continued, “that Tim has been deceitfully and extensively grooming and manipulating multiple women for the past few years with the ultimate intent of coercing them to participate in sexual acts with him, under the premise of going where it takes and doing ‘whatever it takes’ to save a child.”
“Tim Ballard resigned from OUR on June 22, 2023,” the organization said in a statement shared with Rolling Stone. “OUR is dedicated to combatting sexual abuse, and does not tolerate sexual harassment or discrimination by anyone in its organization.” The group further noted that it had “retained an independent law firm to conduct a comprehensive investigation of all relevant allegations,” and “continues to assess and improve the governance of the organization and protocols for its operations.” Citing the need to “preserve the integrity of its investigation and to protect the privacy of all persons involved,” OUR declined to offer additional comment.
Ballard, who also vacated his position as CEO of the Glenn Beck-backed anti-trafficking group Nazerne Fund this summer, remains senior advisor to the SPEAR Fund, a new organization with a similar mission. SPEAR did not return a request for comment as to whether the sexual misconduct allegations would affect his role there.
Meanwhile, Ballard recently faced a rare and unexpected condemnation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for purportedly misrepresenting a powerful church elder’s involvement OUR’s work and his personal business dealings. In a fiery statement, a church spokesperson also alluded to Ballard’s “morally unacceptable” activities without specifying what they were. Ballard, who is Mormon, bizarrely denied that the church had issued the statement while speaking to supporters in Boston. “I don’t believe the church did this,” he protested while claiming that media coverage about him is untrue. “This is breaking down my family like you can’t believe.” Ballard’s efforts to control or downplay negative headlines come as he is reportedly considering a run for Senate. He would be campaigning to replace Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who has said he would not seek reelection in 2024.
For years, both Ballard and OUR have distorted and exaggerated their work on behalf of trafficking victims, with other anti-trafficking groups routinely criticizing their methods. But a self-promotional style and descriptions of daring raids made Ballard and his organization darlings of the political right, including Donald Trump.
The religiously themed Sound of Freedom, distributed by Angel Studios (like OUR, it’s based in Utah and has significant ties to the Church of LDS) only cemented Ballard’s mythic heroism on that side of America’s partisan divide, and offered solidarity with the extreme conspiracist fringe: QAnon promoter Jim Caviezel, who starred as Ballard, used the press tour for the film to peddle outrageous false claims of elites abducting children to harvest for the chemical compound adrenochrome.
It remains to be seen whether fans of the movie, many of whom believe it accurately depicts Ballard’s exploits in bringing down pedophile trafficking rings, will change their opinion of its real-life subject based on the scandals that have dogged him since its release. Any chance for a sequel, however, has certainly diminished.