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Operation Underground Railroad

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An O.U.R. Information tent in 2018 appeared to co-opt imagery from the 1997 Sci-Fi film, Men in Black, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith
Tim Ballard

Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R. - f.2013) is a United States-based Mormon nonprofit organization/NGO, alleged to be rife with fraud and harboring links to the Q-Anon movement.[1] O.U.R. claims to be involved in the "rescue of children" from human trafficking and sex trafficking.[2] To this end, O.U.R. has employed "Hollywood" optics and media-friendly, attention-grabbing tactics - engaging in "paramilitary type operations" to achieve its imperialist goals of eliminating "child trafficking". Headquartered in California, the group which made $17.5 million in donations in 2018[3], was founded in Salt Lake City, Utah by Tim Ballard, supposedly a former officer of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In 2020, Ballard and O.U.R. were the subjects of several media investigations that alleged that Ballard was pursuing relationships with corrupt foreign government officials and had a history of fabricating rescues and statistics.[4][5][6][7]

In October 2020, the Attorney's Office of Davis County, Utah stated that O.U.R. and Tim Ballard were under investigation regarding complaints that O.U.R. had conducted illegal fundraising efforts by fabricating rescues that never took place.[8][9] Details have since emerged, suggesting that much of the exaggeration owes to wrongly taking credit for the work of law enforcement agents.[3] In 2023, the investigation was closed with no charges filed, with Davis County stating that the potential charges were not high up in it's "current priorities".[10]

In July 2023, it was revealed that Ballard had left the organization, following claims by multiple employees, including "misconduct towards women".[11]

One of O.U.R's tactics appears to be setting up fake sex "parties", which will then be "busted" by law enforcement:

The goal is to get as many children as possible to the site of a bust. By the night before OUR’s party in Sosúa, seven people, including the young men from the beach, have said they can bring more than 26 girls for Paul and his friends. OUR has rented two houses—one for the faux celebration, the other across the street as a hideout for cops. Both are modern, all stone and glass, and sit in a tony, gated community a short drive from the beach. The documentary crew carefully places more than 20 cameras throughout the party house. (Police often use this footage as legal evidence.) Some $7,000 in cash is meticulously laid out on a bed and photographed before being divided into envelopes for each trafficker.[12]

Alberto Aguirre (translated):

Supposedly they are covert operations - sponsored by NGOs - in which ex-police officers from the United States almost always intervene, posing as tourists looking for parties... with minors. In reality, they are coordinated operations to unmask networks of sexual exploitation and child trafficking. [...] An article focused on Ballard, a self-proclaimed “man of God” —Mormon—, who was identified as a former agent of the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security appeared in The Huffington Post. His modus operandi? Simple: OUR receives funds allocated to carry out a rescue; a team flies to the selected country and contacts the local authorities. From there, the undercover operations begin, which are fully videotaped: Ballard and his agents pose as sex tourists, actively looking for those who can provide the girls for a "party." The girls and their pimps arrive. The local police intervene. The pimps are arrested and the victims are turned over to social workers. The person who financed the operation can see, in real time and from the comfort of her office or home, the actions... or even be part of the rescue squad.[13]

Style over substance

O.U.R. has been repeatedly accused of pursuing a "style over substance" approach to activism, and being unable to support its outlandish claims as to the number of "children" "saved".

"Ballard’s team features a ragtag group of volunteers, some off-the-books operatives and one former Navy SEAL, but many just regular civilians. There are two CrossFit instructors from Utah, a door-to-door salesman, and even Hollywood actress Laurie Holden, who starred in “The Walking Dead.”" [our emphasis][14]

According to Wikipedia, O.U.R's team members are former military and law enforcement officials including Carlos Maza, Francisco Vega, Dean Morgan, and Dodd Dupree as well as other support volunteers, and that O.U.R. states it does not work independently, or without government participation and support. As of April 2020, O.U.R. reported 3000 "victims" "rescued", and 182 "traffickers" arrested - however, these figures are unlikely to be credible.[15][16]

A documentary called “Operation Toussaint” was created in 2018 featuring the operations of O.U.R. in Haiti.[17]

Questionable history

In February 2016, the Justice Department advised members of ICAC against "being involved in, assisting or supporting operations with" O.U.R. The commander of ICAC's Washington branch stated in an email to state and local police that O.U.R. was not affiliated with ICAC and that "no task-force group should partner with O.U.R. or provide O.U.R. with 'any resources, equipment, personnel, training.'"[18]

Further to this:

  • Tim Ballard claims that prior to founding O.U.R., he served 12 years as a U.S. Special Agent for the Department of Homeland Security, on the Internet Crimes against Children Task Force (ICAC - see above) and the U.S. Child Sex Tourism Jump Team. The Atlantic writer Kaitlyn Tiffany wrote in her article about O.U.R., "Spokespeople for the CIA and DHS said they could not confirm Ballard's employment record without his written permission, which he did not provide."[19]
  • Between 2015 and 2018, O.U.R. donated more than $170,000 to Washington State Patrol's "Net Nanny" sting program. The money was used for "additional detectives, hotels, food and overtime."[18] Sergeant Carlos Rodriguez, the initiator of the sting program arranged positive media coverage for O.U.R.[18], solicited donations for them, [20] and, upon his retirement in 2019, was employed by O.U.R. as their domestic coordinator.[18]
  • O.U.R. has claimed that it rescued a woman named "Liliana", however according to the court testimony of Timothy Ballard himself, she escaped on her own.[21][4]
  • The 2021 Vice investigation further criticized O.U.R.'s practices, including using inexperienced donors and celebrities as part of its jump team, a lack of meaningful surveillance or identification of targets, failing to validate whether the people they intended to rescue were in fact actual trafficking victims, and conflating consensual sex work with sex trafficking.[4]
  • The supporters of O.U.R. have also been criticized for promoting the QAnon Conspiracy Theory.[22][23][24]
  • American Crime Journal's Lynn Packer has asserted that Utah media and the LDS Church were complicit in legitimizing Operation Underground Railroad with little to no oversight and fact-checking.[25][26]
  • ACJ has also presented claims that Ballard is the original source of the "Adrenochrome" myth peddled in conspiracy circles.[27]
  • In an interview with Jordan Peterson in July 2023, Ballard claimed to have recently raided a West African "baby factory" where children are sold for organ harvesting and "Satanic ritual abuse", which Insider asserted as echoing of a QAnon theory.[28][29]

Partnerships and acquisitions

  • In late 2022, Vice identified discussions which implied that Elon Musk's Twitter were seriously considering a partnership with the disgraced organization.[30] Early in 2023, a Ghanaian anti-trafficking charity announced that they had "merged" with OUR, after receiving a considerable "donation" of equipment.[31]

Nelson Maatman and Marthijn Uittenbogaard cases

In 2022, seemingly in an attempt to rekindle their fading reputation, O.U.R. partook of a sting operation against Nelson Maatman, an MAP Activist who was seeking political asylum in Mexico. As per Maatman's article, O.U.R. claim to have co-operated with the authorities and provided a sniffer dog to locate large amounts of Youth Erotica on electronic devices in "hard to reach places". Claims, based on unsubstantiated rumours from NGOs, have since been made that Maatman was intending to "purchase a child".

Throughout the Maatman episode, O.U.R. have supposedly been in "partnership" with the Dutch NGO, Free A Girl - who initiated the investigation with a press release and petition in March, 2022. Maatman and his former colleague Marthijn Uittenbogaard (in the now dissolved PNVD) remain incarcerated in Mexico and Ecuador due to claims made by the alliance, and the actions of South American law enforcement agencies. Maatman claims that Ballard attempted to entrap and plant evidence on him.

According to Marthijn Uittenbogaard's partner Lesley (incarcerated with him on similar trumped-up charges in Ecuador, courtesy of O.U.R.):

I heard that the children were detained by the police for 24 hours when I was arrested. And that they were repeatedly threatened with being beaten with batons. When they were hungry, they were not given food. Police were eating in front of the children, and laughing at them. Their parents sat outside crying. And it is understood that the police here are known to be violent. Tim Ballard was always there. And he threatened the parents several times. The problem is that if you report these things publicly, it is very risky. Tim Ballard can operate with impunity in these countries. With the money he has, he can wrap the police and the OM around his finger. And people don't dare stand up for themselves.[32]

Investigative Journalist, A.H.J. Dautzenberg has revealed that Tim Ballard received a national award from the wife of the president of Ecuador for dismantling 'the network' of Marthijn, Lesley and Nelson. In a February 2023 article, he went on to state: "Reports also reached Martijn and Lesley that Ballard had paid witnesses to give false statements; if they refused - these friends had pointed out that Lesley and Marthijn were innocent - he threatened them with trial and imprisonment. They also heard that Americans in contact with Ballard were offering money to have them killed." According to Lesley, Ballard, a conservative Mormon, was present at his arrest, dressed in a police uniform and equipped with a machine gun.[32]

Uittenbogaard, along with his partner was handed 10 a year prison sentence in June 2023[33] for images found on a hard drive and phone. Journalist, Anton Dautzenberg has published material revealing that authorities classified TikTok videos as illegal, and a Pornhub video as Child Pornography.[34] The multiple claims made by O.U.R. (used in a lucrative film), and the Dutch state-funded Free A Girl were found in court to be without credit. The men are appealing the decision.[34]

Sound of Freedom

A feature film, Sound of Freedom, starring Jim Caviezel as Ballard, was announced in 2018[35] and released in theaters in 2023. The movie was criticized throughout the liberal media, for its relationship with Q-Anon.[36][37][38] Ballard explained how the film's narrative relates to his anti-pedophile "research" and ideology in an interview with conservative outlet, The Daily Signal.[39]

See also

  • Vigilantism
  • Proud Boys - The group frequently storms childrens' Drag Queen Story Time events, for example, at the San Lorenzo Library, accusing organizers of "Grooming".
  • Absolute Zero - Historical group who had Dominionist links, much like this group's LDS/Mormon background and alleged links to Q-Anon.
  • Perverted Justice - A vigilante organization that had connections to the media, entertainment industry and law enforcement.
  • Conspiratorialism
  • Grooming

External links

References

  1. Ballard claims, in this video with Jordan Peterson that he disbelieves "a majority" of Q-Anon theories.
  2. "WHAT'S IN A NUMBER? #Rescue 500". Operation Underground Railroad. 2016-05-11. Archived from the original on 2016-05-18.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Details emerge about investigation into Operation Underground Railroad
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 A Famed Anti-Sex Trafficking Group Has a Problem With the Truth". www.vice.com.
  5. "Inside a Massive Anti-Trafficking Charity's Blundering Overseas Missions". www.vice.com.
  6. "Operation Underground Railroad's Carefully Crafted Public Image Is Falling Apart".
  7. "Derailed: Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.)". American Crime Journal.
  8. "Anti-human trafficking group Operation Underground Railroad under criminal investigation by Utah prosecutor". KSTU. October 8, 2020.
  9. Anti-human-trafficking group Operation Underground Railroad under investigation".
  10. Tomco, Brigham. Davis County Attorney’s Office closes investigation into Operation Underground Railroad
  11. Tim Ballard Left Operation Underground Railroad After Investigation Into Claims Made by Employees
  12. ForeignPolicy.com: "The New Abolitionists"
  13. Aguirre, A. in El Economista (2019): El amigou de doña Olga
  14. ABC News: Inside a Dangerous Mission to Rescue Children in Colombia's Sex Trafficking Trade
  15. Merlan, Anna (10 December 2020). "A Famed Anti-Sex Trafficking Group Has a Problem With the Truth". www.vice.com.
  16. Grant, Melissa Gira (2020-08-19). "QAnon Is Using the Anti-Trafficking Movement's Conspiracy Playbook". The New Republic. ISSN 0028-6583
  17. Terry, Josh (27 July 2018). "Movie review: Gripping 'Operation Toussaint' shows Tim Ballard's real-life battle against sex trafficking". Deseret News.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 Winerip, Michael. Convicted of Sex Crimes, but With No Victims. New York Times, September 28, 2021. Archived
  19. The Atlantic Expose
  20. Sokol, Chad. Thirteen arrested in sting targeting child rapists in Spokane County. Spokesman-Review, July 11, 2016.
  21. "Testimony" (PDF). Judiciary.senate.gov.
  22. Roose, Kevin (2020-08-12). "QAnon Followers Are Hijacking the #SaveTheChildren Movement". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331
  23. "Donald Trump Is Gone, But QAnon's Sex Trafficking Conspiracies Are Here To Stay". BuzzFeed News
  24. WWE Referee, Wrestler-Turned-Mayor Fundraise For QAnon-Adjacent Charity". www.vice.com.
  25. Packer, Lynn (August 28, 2020). "Tim Ballard Utah's Flim-Flam Man - American Crime Journal". American Crime Journal.
  26. 1364: Investigating Tim Ballard and Operation Underground Railroad - Lynn Packer Pt. 6".
  27. ACJ: Tim Ballard Prager U Endorsement
  28. 'Sound of Freedom,' this summer's surprise blockbuster, is fronted by a QAnon supporter and financed by a man who defrauded Medicare
  29. Jim Caviezel and Tim Ballard EP 372
  30. VICE: Trust and Safety head in talks with OUR
  31. Abuse Relief Corps merges with O. U. R. to become Operation Underground Railroad Ghana, and Operation Underground Railroad Works with Abuse Relief Corps to Fight Sexual Abuse and Child Sex Trafficking in Ghana
  32. 32.0 32.1 A.H.J. Dautzenberg (2023): The Gruesome Consequences of a Hysterical Witch Hunt (english trans)
  33. DutchNews - 10 year sentence
  34. 34.0 34.1 PERSBERICHT – gevangen in Ecuador, ‘We zijn onschuldig’ and Teksten van Marthijn Uittenbogaard.
  35. Child Sex Trafficking Explored in New Doc 'Abolitionists' (Exclusive Video)
  36. 'Sound of Frееdom' bеcamе box officе succеssful: Harrowing truе story bеhind it
  37. Sound of Freedom: the QAnon-adjacent thriller seducing America
  38. Sound Of Freedom' Is a Superhero Movie for Dads With Brainworms
  39. Daily Signal interview: Sound of Freedom