Have you heard? Today is Giving Tuesday, an appendage of the Black Friday industrial complex that encourages people to open their hearts and wallets in the spirit of giving. What better charity to give your coin to, Bryce Harper asks, than Operation Underground Railroad? Who wouldn’t want to save the children?
Operation Underground Railroad’s mission, according to its official website, involves bringing in the “world’s experts in extraction operations and in anti-child trafficking efforts to bring an end to child slavery.” As that first clause suggests, OUR is an explicitly militarized organization, and they’ve gained notoriety over the past few years by staging elaborate “raids” on sex traffickers and filming stings carried out by “strike teams.”
The organization was founded in 2013 by Tim Ballard, a former special agent with the Department of Homeland Security, who struck out on his own as a freelance anti-trafficking agent after being told to do so by God. In 2016, the organization reported revenues of $5.9 million, but by 2019—the same year Ballard was appointed to Donald Trump’s Council to End Human Trafficking—that number grew to $23.2 million. A Utah prosecutor is currently conducting an investigation into OUR, seemingly into the legality of their fundraising.
Their explosion in popularity is at the very least adjacent to the inexorable rise of QAnon over the last two years. As QAnon reached something approaching mainstream popularity over the summer, some of its outward-facing message softened a bit to be about how Hillary Clinton is literally eating children and harvesting their adrenochrome and more about saving the children, which is a more effective gateway message to the hard stuff. More people are going to pay attention to pastel Instagram slideshows and TikToks than walls of 8kun text.
Ballard has flirted with Q ideology before, and when asked by the New York Times about the confluence of anti-trafficking efforts and QAnon, he said, “Some of these theories have allowed people to open their eyes. So now it’s our job to flood the space with real information so the facts can be shared.” Actual trafficking experts have said that faux-operator bozos like Ballard have helped muddy the waters to the point that they’re making things worse by lying about the scope of the problem, and focusing solely on kinetic-style extractions rather than the much harder process of reintegration.
If any of this sounds familiar in a baseball context, it is probably because of Adam LaRoche, the recently retired ballplayer famous 1) retiring because he couldn’t bring his son into the clubhouse and 2) dabbling in freelance child liberation. LaRoche has worked with Ballard, and was teammates with Harper in Washington for two seasons.
I don’t know if LaRoche redpilled Harper, or if the Phillies slugger is just a standard dumb baseball guy who sees “Save the Children” and thinks “Cool!” but this sucks either way.