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Quietly released on July 4, the independently made thriller Sound of Freedom spoke loudly at the summertime box office, surpassing such established franchises as Indiana Jones and Mission: Impossible. But the movie has also been dogged by multiple controversies, including star Jim Caviezel's reported ties to QAnon and the "Pay It Forward" crowdfunding program that some believe inflated its domestic gross of $183 million and counting.
Now allegations are emerging about two people associated with the film — executive producer Paul Hutchinson and Tim Ballard, the former Homeland Security special agent whose life story inspired it. Here’s what you need to know about the fresh controversies surrounding the year’s most unlikely blockbuster.
What’s being said about Tim Ballard?
Ballard first rose to prominence in 2013 after he founded Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), an organization that works to prevent the sex trafficking of children. One of the group’s first operations in Colombia made national news and brought Ballard to the attention of film producers looking to put his life story onscreen. Sound of Freedom was originally filmed in 2018, but remained in limbo for five years until the Utah-based media company Angel Studios acquired the distribution rights in March and developed what proved to be a lucrative July 4 release strategy.
Following the film’s release, reports circulated that Ballard had resigned from OUR in June. Vice News recently reported that his exit is connected to a sexual misconduct investigation involving seven women. According to Vice’s sources, Ballard would embark on undercover missions with women who were enlisted to pose as his wife. While abroad, he allegedly coerced them into joining him in bed or the shower. Ballard allegedly sent at least one woman a photo of himself that asked her “how far she was willing to go” to keep children from being trafficked.
In a statement provided to Vice, OUR made it clear that the organization had cut ties with Ballard. “O.U.R. is dedicated to combatting sexual abuse, and does not tolerate sexual harassment or discrimination by anyone in its organization,” the statement read in part.
In a statement provided to Yahoo Entertainment after Vice published its story, Ballard pushed back on the allegations contained in the report. “During my time at O.U.R., I designed strict guidelines for myself and our operators in the field. Sexual contact was prohibited, and I led by example. Given our meticulous attention to this issue, any suggestion of inappropriate sexual contact is categorically false.”
Vice also reported that Ballard, a devout Mormon, is at odds with the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over claims about his friendship with President M. Russell Ballard (no relation). According to documents reviewed by Vice, the two had ties that extended back years, and Tim Ballard reportedly claimed that Elder Ballard played a role in OUR. A spokesperson for the church issued a strongly worded statement to Vice that described Tim Ballard’s activities as “morally unacceptable.”
“For many months, President Ballard has had no contact with the founder of Operation Underground Railroad. 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,” the statement read.
Tim Ballard’s new organization, the Spear Fund, issued its own statement in response and downplayed the apparent schism. “I am a faithful Member in good standing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,” reads the statement, which was obtained by Yahoo Entertainment. “I, my family, and the Spear Fund team will confidently move forward and focus on our mission of saving children from the horrors of sex slavery, and remaining fierce defenders of freedom. We invite anyone who shares this passion to join us.”
What’s being said about Paul Hutchinson?
Prior to joining the producing team of Sound of Freedom, the Utah-based Hutchinson founded the Child Liberation Foundation, which similarly involves itself in child-trafficking cases. On his personal website, he claims to have led 43 undercover missions in 15 countries and received a 2022 Medal of Freedom Award for his humanitarian work.
According to Vice, Hutchinson is facing his own sexual misconduct charges for touching the naked breasts of a 16-year-old trafficking survivor. Vice reported that video footage of the moment was provided to OUR and later obtained by an investigator at the Davis County Attorney’s Office in Utah. No charges were ultimately filed in that investigation, which was closed in 2022.
In email response to Vice, Hutchinson declined to deny the reported content of the video, including the footage of him fondling the trafficking victim's breasts. The producer did claim that he possessed a sworn affidavit from federal police in Mexico that stated her age as 18, not 16, but did not provide reporters with a copy of the document.
“There is a lot to the story, a very dangerous situation and I am happy to let the world know the details when the time is right,” Hutchinson stated in an email to Vice. “Every operator who was present stands behind me in how I reacted to the situation. I have zero reservations as to how I handled myself undercover.”
Sound of Freedom is currently playing in theaters.