For several years, Mel Gibson has been seen by conspiracy theorists as an ally. It is believed that he is or will be exposing the corruption of the elite and the sinister practices of those in Hollywood and beyond. According to information on social media, his latest documentary will expose a child trafficking network in Ukraine and many other parts of the world. As it turns out, this has little to do with reality.
Information about Mel Gibson’s documentary has been flooding social media for several days. Posts on this subject have been viewed thousands of times. Dozens of posts and videos have been circulating on the Internet, fuelling interest in the whole case. We can find them on Facebook or Twitter, also in Spanish. This news has also reached Poland, where it was shared by both regular users and celebrities.
Is Mel Gibson preparing a documentary?
The first viral post about Mel Gibson’s participation in the recording of a documentary about international child trafficking was a tweet by the Leading Report account. The profile is known for publishing unverified, sensational information. It is also not certain why the topic is attracting so much attention these days. Perhaps the upcoming premiere of the documentary, which is likely to take place during the holidays, was the reason for this.
In fact, however, information about the American actor’s participation in the high-profile project appeared in January 2023. The creator of the film, Tim Ballard, was the first to share it. This took place during the Utah Eagle Forum conference, which is conservative and right-wing, with a strong religious overtone. During the event, Ballard talked about the behind-the-scenes of his documentary “The Hidden War”.
Ballard’s speech was used on social media as evidence that Mel Gibson was creating the document in question. However, when we listen to the full speech, we can see that there are no words about the direct or active participation of the American actor in the production of the film. The main creator is Ballard himself, and Gibson was only supposed to help him start the project. Though it’s not clear what this means.
In his correspondence with AP News, Tim Ballard presented his position:
“Mel deserves all the credit for taking the initiative to further the critical work that we do. I am personally grateful for his support as we worked on this documentary, however reports this four-part series is actually being produced by Mr. Gibson are not accurate.”
At the same time, Mel Gibson’s long-time publicist, Alan Nierob, strongly denied that the actor was currently involved in the production of any documentary. Moreover, he has not financed any projects recently either.
Nierob’s laconic responses and Ballard’s vague statements do not allow us to clearly answer the question of what it looked like or whether there was any cooperation between the two regarding the production of the film. It is known, however, that the American actor is not the creator of the document in question, nor did he actively work on it. However, the creator of “The Hidden War” had more to say about Gibson, which is discussed below.
The Hidden War, Mel Gibson, and Ukraine
In his speech, Tim Ballard points out that when the war broke out, his wife urged him to go rescue children in Ukraine. Soon after, the hesitant Ballard was called by Mel Gibson, asking for help in transporting a group of orphans from Ukraine, whose safety the actor wanted to ensure. At this point, Ballard decided to go, and asked Gibson for help in starting the production of the documentary. He reportedly agreed to this and provided the necessary support.
Ballard was to meet Gibson while filming his autobiographical feature film “The Sound of Freedom”. Ballard was played by Jim Caviezel. He is best known for his role as Jesus in the film “The Passion of the Christ”, directed by Mel Gibson. Ballard claims Gibson helped him edit the final version of “The Sound of Freedom”, though the American actor’s name is not listed among the filmmakers.
It is also worth adding that, contrary to the narratives spread on social media, Ballard did not present Ukraine in a bad light during his speech. His statements do not justify the deductions presented by Internet users in various posts. Ballard pointed out that there is a particularly high risk of becoming a victim of child trafficking in several countries around the world, including Ukraine (which is not true, as clarified e.g. here). At the same time, however, he suggested that he was cooperating with the Ukrainian authorities, who reportedly provided him with a list of 10,000 missing children. In addition, he stated that in the four-part documentary, only the first fifteen minutes are devoted to the topic of war. In no way do Ballard’s words confirm the anti-Ukrainian claims spread on social media, although of course the tone of the document itself may be negative towards Ukraine. At the moment, when the premiere has not yet taken place, it remains to be seen.
Who is Tim Ballard?
Tim Ballard is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and founder of the non-governmental organization Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.). He claims to have worked as an agent for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), dealing with the prosecution of human traffickers and the fight against child sexual abuse. However, neither the CIA nor the DHS can confirm Ballard’s employment history, as they do not have his written permission to disclose such information.
Ballard owes his popularity in recent years to the moral panic over the allegedly alarming number of child abductions in the United States. The conspiracy theory launched by QAnon about a vast paedophile network permeating the global elites has taken on a life of its own. Currently, many people in the U.S. believe in a “child trafficking pandemic”. Millions of Americans believe that between 300,000 and 800,000 minors disappear in their country every year. Such a belief stems from a misunderstanding of what the figures presented actually are. In reality, they come from different research studies conducted over the years and present the overall number of reports of missing children. The majority of reported cases eventually turn out to be runaways from home, parental abductions, and situations where minors are not where they should be. Circa 99% of missing children return home safely. Abductions by strangers are extremely rare, with around 100 cases per year in the U.S.
Thanks to this belief, Ballard and his organisation can count on generous donations from parents or others concerned about the fate of children. After all, O.U.R. is combating a practice that is universally perceived as evil. At the same time, this is not to say that Ballard actively promotes the conspiracy theory in question, but he has definitely benefited from the situation. Of course, human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of minors should be treated as extremely serious problems, but inflating statistics and spreading panic does not help to solve them.
O.U.R. is dedicated to fighting child traffickers and preventing sexual exploitation of minors. The actions of the organisation, whose members pretend to be interested in sexual ‘services’ of minors, involve arranging meetings with offenders to deliver children to a specific location. Then, together with local law enforcement officers, they conduct a raid to apprehend the suspects.
O.U.R. has repeatedly been criticised for its modus operandi. The Atlantic, Huffpost, Vice or Slate pointed out to reckless actions and applying simple (yet ineffective) solutions to a complex problem. O.U.R. allows people without any experience to participate in raids in exchange for a donation to the organisation. Donors can also watch these types of actions live, which deprives victims of human trafficking of their anonymity. Actually, O.U.R. only cooperates in this way with law enforcement officers in developing countries, where the level of corruption in public services remains high. As a result, it is not always clear what happened to those rescued. Ballard was also accused of exaggerating his involvement in some events.
Mel Gibson is not involved in the making of a documentary on child trafficking in Ukraine. This was confirmed by both the actor’s representative and the film’s creator. The latter added that Gibson had helped him start filming, but was not involved in the production process. Moreover, Tim Ballard did not portray Ukraine in an explicitly negative light, and only a small section of the documentary is said to deal with the situation in the country. The entire narrative built around this film and Mel Gibson is based on manipulation and false information. Any news regarding the upcoming documentary should be handled with particular care.