Over the summer, Ivanka Trump joined her father, Donald Trump, and other conservatives and far-right QAnon believers in promoting the surprise summer hit movie, “Sound of Freedom,” which follows the purported real-life heroics of former federal agent Tim Ballard as he rescues South American children from sex traffickers.
But after Ivanka Trump called Ballard’s story in “Sound of Freedom” “harrowing” and “inspiring,” and mingled with him at a special private screening her father hosted at his New Jersey golf club, a new report has painted a disturbing portrait of the self-styled anti-slavery activist and the true reasons he quietly left the anti-trafficking organization he founded.
The report by Vice said Monday that Ballard, who is played by actor Jim Caviezel in “Sound of Freedom,” exited Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.) before the film’s July 4 release, following an investigation into claims of sexual misconduct involving seven women.
Sources familiar with Ballard’s resignation from O.U.R. told Vice that he allegedly pressured women to pretend to be his wife and share a bed or take showers with him during rescue missions in South America — telling them that such measures were necessary to fool real child traffickers. Vice also quoted a source who said that Ballard allegedly sent at least one woman a photo of himself in his underwear and asked her “how far she was willing to go” to save children.
At the least, these sexual harassment allegations against Ballard suggest that Ivanka Trump and other politicians and celebrities who voiced support for “Sound of Freedom,” including Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have put their faith in the wrong movie and in the wrong movie hero. The strategy to promote and distribute the movie directly to religious and socially conservative audiences is said to have boosted its domestic box office to more than $183 million, making it second in earnings to Tom Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning” in its first weekend.
But the allegations against Ballard also serve as another reminder that Ivanka Trump has continued to publicly back her father, even after he was accused of sexual misconduct, including sexual assault, by 26 women. Despite the evident contradictions, Ivanka Trump also styled herself as a supporter of her father’s stated efforts to combat human trafficking when he was president and she was his senior White House adviser.
When Ivanka Trump voiced her support for “Sound of Freedom” on social media in June, it marked a rare return for the former first daughter into the political arena, the New York Times reported. She herself said she was retreating from politics after her father’s defeat to Joe Biden in the 2020 election. The one-time fashion entrepreneur and influencer also backed away from being a regular presence on social media.
But in June, Ivanka shared a trailer for “Sound of Freedom” on X (formerly Twitter) and wrote: “‘Sound of Freedom’ sheds light on the harrowing reality of #HumanTrafficking, awakening our collective conscience and inspiring us to take action for those trapped in its dark web.” After the film’s July 4 release in theaters, Ivanka Trump also joined her father as he hosted a private screening at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club.
“Sound of Freedom” sheds light on the harrowing reality of #HumanTrafficking, awakening our collective conscience and inspiring us to take action for those trapped in its dark web.
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) June 19, 2023
Other attendees at the private screening included Caviezel, who played Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ,” the film directed by controversial actor and filmmaker director Mel Gibson, who also showered “Sound of Freedom” with praise, Vice reported. Caviezel also has promoted messages from QAnon, a viral internet conspiracy that has taken hold among many on the American right and has pushed false information about COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter protest and the presidential election, as the New York Times reported. A core QAnon falsehood is that a group of liberal, Satan-worshipping elites run a child sex ring, which explains why the themes of “Sound of Freedom” have resonated with QAnon supporters.
“Sound of Freedom” is supposedly based on Ballard’s real-life heroics, after he resigned from the Department of Homeland Security and became an anti-child-slavery activist. Under Ballard, O.U.R. claimed it conducted heroic and daring rescues in foreign countries that led to the liberation of thousands of trafficked women and children, Vice reported. For his work, Ballard was appointed by Trump to serve on a federal advisory panel on human trafficking, and he is now mulling a run for the Senate in Utah.
But two years before “Sound of Freedom” was released and received laudatory social media support from Donald and Ivanka Trump and others, Vice documented the ways that Ballard and O.U.R. dramatically exaggerated its work and failed to provide clear documentary evidence.
People who volunteered for O.U.R. raised concerns that the organization could actually have been creating demand for 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, Vice said. The organization’s support for law enforcement also was at times “wildly exaggerated” and involved O.U.R. taking credit for agencies’ operations after making relatively trivial donations. Vice moreover reported that its much-touted aftercare program for survivors involved such measures as placing women with unqualified providers and even fabricating a college graduation ceremony.
As for Ballard, he did not respond to requests for comment from Vice about the sexual misconduct allegations. Vice reported that the total number of alleged victims is believed to be higher than seven, as its investigation only accounted for employees of O.U.R. In response to the Vice report, an O.U.R. spokesperson didn’t directly comment on the sexual misconduct allegations but confirmed that Ballard resigned on June 22 and “has permanently separated” from the organization.
“O.U.R. is dedicated to combatting sexual abuse, and does not tolerate sexual harassment or discrimination by anyone in its organization,” the spokesperson said. “O.U.R. retained an independent law firm to conduct a comprehensive investigation of all relevant allegations, and O.U.R. continues to assess and improve the governance of the organization and protocols for its operations.”
The spokesperson also said that the organization “is confident in its future as the leading organization committed to combatting sex trafficking and saving children who have been captured and sold into slavery.”