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Anti-Trafficking Group That Inspired ‘Sound of Freedom’ Dodges Questions About Why Founder Left

tim-ballard-press-conference.jpg FL: 'Sound of Freedom' Red Carpet Premier. - Credit: Alberto E. Tamargo/Sipa USA/AP
tim-ballard-press-conference.jpg FL: 'Sound of Freedom' Red Carpet Premier. - Credit: Alberto E. Tamargo/Sipa USA/AP

The release of Sound of Freedom should’ve been a victory lap for Tim Ballard, founder and former CEO of the anti-trafficking organization Operation Underground Railroad. A fictionalized version of Ballard, played by actor Jim Caviezel, is the protagonist of the film, which depicts him as a crusading avenger for abducted children. The movie — made on a small budget but a runaway hit with conservative audiences this summer — also doubled as a public relations coup for OUR, whose supposed real-life trafficking rescue expeditions are highlighted in an epilogue.

But shortly after Sound of Freedom‘s July 4 premiere, it emerged that Ballard had weeks ago quietly resigned from the group. According to sources cited by Vice, internal strife at OUR was to blame, with Ballard leaving the organization following multiple employee complaints against him, though the nature of those allegations remains unclear.

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On Thursday, OUR hosted a Zoom press forum, which was streamed live on Facebook, to “discuss the current state of trafficking and how OUR is fighting it,” featuring a panel of its staff. Framed as an update in the wake of Sound of Freedom‘s success, the group also advertised the event as a “Q&A Hot Seat” and a “unique opportunity to have your most controversial questions answered.” Inevitably, queries in the live chat turned to the topic of Ballard’s departure.

Conference host Matt Osborne — president of OUR — seemed eager to head off any discussion of Ballard in his opening remarks. “Many people associate Tim Ballard as the face of our organization,” he said, mentioning that Ballard “stepped away” two and a half months ago. “We are forever grateful, and always will be grateful, for our inception, our founding and our organization. But what we’re even more excited to do is showcase the future,” he continued, introducing other speakers.

Of course, it’s hardly unusual for a company or nonprofit to withhold the circumstances of an executive’s resignation, or that remaining leadership would try to move past lingering concerns about such a shakeup. Still, multiple attendees asked for further clarification on why Ballard had parted ways with OUR. Osborne again acknowledged the elephant in the room without offering further details. “So we’ve gotten a number of questions coming in now over the past few minutes, essentially with this same theme, so we’ll I’ll just address it now,” he said. “Essentially it’s, ‘Can Matt comment on Tim Ballard’s exit from OUR?’ Look, I’ll just say clearly and openly, we’re focused on the future. We’re not focused on the past. We will always be grateful for the founding of Operation Underground Railroad.”

“We wish [Ballard] well, but we are focused on the future,” Osborne repeated.

Several viewers continued to press Osborne to explain further. In the comments for the Facebook live stream, one attendee vented his frustration: “I’m quite disappointed in the promotion of this event to hear our most controversial questions and get them answered in real time… then there is an absolute refusal to talk about Tim Ballard’s reason for exiting the organization.” Others, however, dismissed the topic as unimportant. “We don’t need to talk about Tim Ballard,” one person wrote on Facebook. “We need to talk about how to stop human trafficking. Stay focused people.”

Since leaving OUR, Ballard has also confirmed that he is no longer employed as the CEO of the Nazarene Fund, another anti-trafficking group backed by Glenn Beck. Yet another anti-trafficking organization, the SPEAR Fund, formerly listed Ballard as a co-founder but now describes him only as a “senior advisor.” Last month, he began hawking “Freedom”-branded dietary supplements on Instagram.

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