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Even the Mormon Church wants nothing to do with Tim Ballard anymore
The LDS Church issued a rare personal rebuke against the man portrayed in the right-wing hit "Sound of Freedom"
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One of the biggest non-Barbenheimer movies of the summer was Sound of Freedom, in which Jim Caviezel plays Tim Ballard, a man who makes it his mission to save children from Colombian sex traffickers.
The film depicts Ballard as a U.S. government agent who prosecutes pedophiles. No matter how many arrests he makes, though, the underlying problem never goes away. So he eventually decides to save kids directly, even if that means he has to quit his job. The rest of the movie features him rescuing children no matter how much danger it involves.
Right-wing conspiracy theorists have made the film a financial success in part because they’re convinced everyone they don’t like is a child sex trafficker and in part because both Ballard and Caviezel are right-wing conspiracy theorists like them. Both men promote QAnon conspiracies that falsely claim liberals and Democratic power-brokers are involved in the kidnapping and selling of children, then “harvesting the chemical adrenochrome from their blood to consume as an elixir of youth.”
But the personal beliefs of the lead actor and the person he portrays might not be relevant if the movie was solid on its own. Hollywood always takes liberties with films “based on true stories,” and they routinely overlook facts in order to tell a more idealized tale. All that matters, supporters might say, is that the real-life Ballard was the founder of a non-profit anti-trafficking group called Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.) that claims to conduct paramilitary missions to rescue children. Since its founding in 2013, the group says it’s emancipated over 6,000 women and children. Ballard participated in some of those missions. Case closed. Right?
This is where fact and fiction blur once again.
Shortly after the film’s release, VICE noted that reviews of the movie “gloss over O.U.R.’s long history of exaggeration and misrepresentation.” For example, O.U.R. took credit for rescuing a girl named “Liliana,” but the girl actually rescued herself and didn’t interact with O.U.R. until years later. The group claimed collaborations that didn’t exist. They took credit for events without evidence of their own participation. Some of their actions may have made the trafficking problem worse. The group’s reported number of successes are questioned by experts in the field.
Now, new details highlight more problems with the self-mythologized story of O.U.R. and Tim Ballard.
According to VICE, Ballard left the organization earlier this year because he was accused of sexual misconduct by at least seven different women.
[Ballard] invited women to act as his “wife” on undercover overseas missions ostensibly aimed at rescuing victims of sex trafficking. He would then allegedly coerce those women into sharing a bed or showering together, claiming that it was necessary to fool traffickers. 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 “how far she was willing to go,” in the words of a source, to save children.
It also doesn’t help that the Mormon Church is now speaking out against Ballard for an entirely different reason.
When Ballard was giving paid speeches about his work, he often invoked the name of 94-year-old M. Russell Ballard, the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which is a long way of saying he’s a high-ranking Mormon leader). The two men are not related despite the shared last name, but they do know each other and have praised each other in the past.
Tim Ballard apparently claimed the Mormon leader was in close contact with him during rescue operations and worked together on a for-profit venture capitalizing on his fame. The LDS Church has now fully rebuked the idea that there’s an ongoing association between the two or that their previous ties were all that close.
… For many months, President Ballard has had no contact with the founder of Operation Underground Railroad (OUR). The nature of that relationship was always in support of vulnerable children being abused, trafficked, and otherwise neglected. Once it became clear Tim Ballard had betrayed their friendship, through the unauthorized use of President Ballard’s name for Tim Ballard’s personal advantage and activity regarded as morally unacceptable, President Ballard withdrew his association. President Ballard never authorized his name, or the name of the Church, to be used for Tim’s personal or financial interests.
In addition, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints never endorsed, supported or represented OUR, Tim Ballard or any projects associated with them.
The Church didn’t elaborate on what, exactly, was “morally unacceptable.” (They didn’t mention the sexual misconduct.) But it’s clear they don’t want to be tied to Tim Ballard in any meaningful way.
One of the goals of creating this false connection in the public’s mind, according to someone who worked with Tim Ballard, was to “use the sizzle of the rescue to lead people back to the Mormon covenant.” That is: use his star-power to convert people to Mormonism.
The fact that the Mormon Church wants nothing to do with him should be a giant red flag to believers across the state. (Do you know how bad things must be for the Church to openly trash someone who’s a practicing Mormon? It’s rare.) Tim Ballard reacted to all this by denying that the Mormon Church issued the statement (they absolutely did) and then making false allegations of pedophilia against… VICE.
All of this could hamper an expected announcement next month by Ballard to run for the open U.S. Senate seat in Utah soon to be vacated by Mitt Romney. He’s hoping to ride his right-wing stardom into public office, a la J.D. Vance, but he’ll need the support of Utah Republicans to do it. If the Mormon Church is openly rejecting him, it’s unclear what Mormon voters will do. Though it’s also possible that they, like so many white evangelicals, are so beholden to their political ideologies, that nothing their religious leaders say will make a damn bit of difference.
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