SALT LAKE CITY, UT (WGHP) — The man whose anti-human trafficking work was dramatized in a surprise hit film is now being hit from all sides with allegations and controversy.
Tim Ballard, whose work with the group “Operation Underground Railroad” was turned into the film “The Sound of Freedom,” has been accused of sexual misconduct with female OUR employees and denounced by the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints for “morally unacceptable” behavior, according to a statement provided by the church to Nexstar’s KTVX and VICE News.
The church told the news outlets that Ballard misrepresented his relationship with a high-ranking member of church leadership, Russell M. Ballard (no relation), in order to further his personal and financial interests.
“Claims include President Ballard reportedly giving a spiritual blessing before an OUR raid, which take place as part of the organization’s mission to save trafficked children, with intel provided by a psychic medium. Additionally, Tim Ballard claimed President Ballard was working with him to use the attention drawn from the rescues to gain Church converts,” KTVX reported.
Ballard has cast aspersions on the validity of the statement from the LDS Church. He also claims that recently surfaced allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior come from “the people he’s trying to fight,” according to a statement he released through his current organization, The SPEAR Fund.
Governor Spencer Cox told FOX 13 in Utah that he reached out to the church about the statement and confirmed it was genuine, calling the allegations “unconscionable.”
“Evil pedophiles will stop at nothing, and they have allies in government, in the media, in big corporations, and even in public institutions. They continue to lie and attempt to destroy my good name and defame my character…and they will never stop,” Ballard said in his statement.
His statement comes on the heels of a VICE News report that details half a dozen sexual misconduct allegations allegedly filed with OUR against Ballard. VICE reports that Ballard invited several women working with OUR to act as his “wife” on undercover missions. He would then allegedly coerce victims into sharing a bed or showering with him, stating it was necessary to “fool traffickers.”
Per VICE, Ballard “is said to have sent at least one woman a photo of himself in his underwear, festooned with fake tattoos, and to have asked another, in the words of a source, ‘how far she was willing to go’ to save children. These sources requested anonymity because they fear retaliation.”
“O.U.R. is dedicated to combatting sexual abuse, and does not tolerate sexual harassment or discrimination by anyone in its organization,” the organization said in a statement provided to VICE.
Lynn Packer published the full, anonymous complaint against Tim Ballard on YouTube on Sept. 18, which VICE states had been circulating for several months.
Sound of Freedom
“The Sound of Freedom” became an unexpected box office hit after being shelved for five years as a result of the Disney and 21st Century Fox merger. Distributed by Angel Studios, the film portrays a dramatized version of Ballard’s time as an agent working for a division of ICE and the early days of his career as a private human trafficking investigator.
“Critics say the movie, Sound of Freedom, exaggerates child trafficking concerns,” North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Mark Walker said in a release ahead of a special screening of the film held in Greensboro in July.
Likely, Walker was referring to comments from anti-trafficking experts that “Sound of Freedom” contributes to misinformation about what trafficking looks like and could do more harm than good in efforts to combat it. Operation Underground Railroad has been the subject of similar criticisms with VICE News reporting that people who have worked with the group on “missions” have expressed concerns that their methods might even increase demand of trafficking victims “by going to foreign countries on undercover ‘missions'” that, at times, have seemed to consist of walking around bars and sex clubs asking for underage girls.”
The film, which had a budget of around $14 million and stars “Passion of the Christ” star Jim Caviezel, made about $183 million since its July 4 release. It grossed over $19 million on its opening day, outperforming the newest “Indiana Jones.”
The organization had a “pay it forward” incentive for tickets, asking people to buy excess tickets so that people could see the film for free. People also took to social media with conspiracies about theaters attempting to prevent them from seeing the movie.
In addition to the group’s spurious, difficult-to-prove claims about their methods and impact on human trafficking victims, Caviezel’s connections to the QAnon conspiracy theory came to the forefront during the press tour. While promoting the film, he was seen on Steve Bannon’s podcast discussing the harvesting of adrenochrome, a core tenant of QAnon’s esoteric beliefs, where they allege that a cabal of elites is trafficking children to harvest adrenochrome to use in rituals.