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

Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R. - f.2013) is a United States-based nonprofit organization/NGO, alleged to be rife with fraud and harboring links to the Q-Anon movement. O.U.R. claims to be involved in the "rescue of children" from human trafficking and sex trafficking.[1] 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[2], 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.[3][4][5][6] 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.[7][8] Details have since emerged, suggesting that much of the exaggeration owes to wrongly taking credit for the work of law enforcement agents.[2]

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."[9]

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][10]

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.[11][12]

A documentary called “Operation Toussaint” was created in 2018 featuring the operations of O.U.R. in Haiti.[13]

Questionable history

  • 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 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."[14]
  • 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.[15][3]
  • 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.[3]
  • The supporters of O.U.R. have also been criticized for promoting the QAnon Conspiracy Theory.[16][17][18]
  • 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.[19][20]

Nelson Maatman case

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 colleagues in the now dissolved PNVD remain incarcerated in various countries due to claims made by the alliance, and the actions of South American law enforcement agencies.

See also

  • Vigilantism
  • Proud Boys - In 2022, the group stormed a children's Drag Queen Story Time event at the San Lorenzo Library, falsely alleging activity by MAPs.
  • Absolute Zero - Historical group who had Dominionist links, much like this group's alleged links to Q-Anon.
  • Perverted Justice - A vigilante organization that had connections to the media, entertainment industry and law enforcement.

External links

References

  1. "WHAT'S IN A NUMBER? #Rescue 500". Operation Underground Railroad. 2016-05-11. Archived from the original on 2016-05-18.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Details emerge about investigation into Operation Underground Railroad
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 A Famed Anti-Sex Trafficking Group Has a Problem With the Truth". www.vice.com.
  4. "Inside a Massive Anti-Trafficking Charity's Blundering Overseas Missions". www.vice.com.
  5. "Operation Underground Railroad's Carefully Crafted Public Image Is Falling Apart".
  6. "Derailed: Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.)". American Crime Journal.
  7. "Anti-human trafficking group Operation Underground Railroad under criminal investigation by Utah prosecutor". KSTU. October 8, 2020.
  8. Anti-human-trafficking group Operation Underground Railroad under investigation".
  9. ForeignPolicy.com: "The New Abolitionists"
  10. https://abcnews.go.com/International/inside-dangerous-mission-rescue-children-colombias-sex-trafficking/story?id=26185510 ABC News: Inside a Dangerous Mission to Rescue Children in Colombia's Sex Trafficking Trade
  11. Merlan, Anna (10 December 2020). "A Famed Anti-Sex Trafficking Group Has a Problem With the Truth". www.vice.com.
  12. Grant, Melissa Gira (2020-08-19). "QAnon Is Using the Anti-Trafficking Movement's Conspiracy Playbook". The New Republic. ISSN 0028-6583
  13. Terry, Josh (27 July 2018). "Movie review: Gripping 'Operation Toussaint' shows Tim Ballard's real-life battle against sex trafficking". Deseret News.
  14. The Atlantic Expose
  15. "Testimony" (PDF). Judiciary.senate.gov.
  16. Roose, Kevin (2020-08-12). "QAnon Followers Are Hijacking the #SaveTheChildren Movement". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331
  17. "Donald Trump Is Gone, But QAnon's Sex Trafficking Conspiracies Are Here To Stay". BuzzFeed News
  18. WWE Referee, Wrestler-Turned-Mayor Fundraise For QAnon-Adjacent Charity". www.vice.com.
  19. Packer, Lynn (August 28, 2020). "Tim Ballard Utah's Flim-Flam Man - American Crime Journal". American Crime Journal.
  20. 1364: Investigating Tim Ballard and Operation Underground Railroad - Lynn Packer Pt. 6".