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Point of View — Episode 1: Tim Ballard’s Potential Run for Senate

Opinion writer NingLi Loken talks with Stevie about Tim Ballard, Operation Underground Railroad and the importance of honesty.
Sam Garcia
(Design by Sam Garcia | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


Disclaimer: In this podcast, it is mentioned that Tim Ballard is running for Senate, but at this time he is only considering. Thank you for listening.

Stevie Shaughnessey: Hi and welcome to Point of View, the Daily Utah Chronicle’s opinion podcast. My name is Stevie and I’ll be your host. Today we have NingLi Loken on to talk about their upcoming print piece hitting the stands October 23. Hi NingLi and thank you so much for joining us today!

NingLi Loken: Hi, yeah. Thanks for having me here.

Stevie Shaughnessey: So what is your upcoming print piece about?

NingLi Loken: So Tim Ballard is running for office. He just recently announced that he wants to replace Mitt Romney in the congressional race, and this upcoming print issue is about business and politics. So, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to talk about how Tim Ballard, who is an anti — he’s an anti-trafficking figure who founded Operation Underground Railroad, and he is known amongst other anti-trafficking groups as an embellisher of his own stories.

Stevie Shaughnessey: So why did you choose to write about this topic, and why is it personally important to you?

NingLi Loken: The issue of anti-trafficking is really personal to me because I am adopted internationally, and there are some shifty things that surround transracial and international adoption, and Tim Ballard himself has taken in some of these kids to declare them as his own, the kids that he has reportedly rescued from trafficking. So just wanting to shed light on the fact that he is not centering the needs of trafficking victims also probably points to the fact that he is not centering others’ needs at all, but his own political motivations, which I see as problematic since, you know, I want to be sensitive to other people’s experiences with adoption.

But overall, it is a really traumatic experience, especially transracially and reducing the amount of trauma doesn’t seem to be Tim Ballard’s priority whenever he makes these big grand, grand raids and involve local police and end up criminalizing people involved in sex work — and sex work I say in tandem with trafficking. But just as a blanket, he, Tim Ballard, believes that one of the solutions is to crack down on border patrol and to enhance regulations at the border and that, that also does more harm to trafficking victims than it does good, and so to have him in a position of power, making those types of decisions voting, voting to make Border Patrol more violent, I don’t think is ideal, and people should know that his practices are more harmful than they are helpful to victims of trafficking.

Stevie Shaughnessey: Do you think that there’s any part of his campaign where he’s deceiving people and what about it, like, rings alarm bells in your head for you?

NingLi Loken: The alarming part is that he’s riding off of the fame that he’s garnered from initiatives like Operation Underground Railroad, and even in the naming of that he’s riding off of the legacy of anti-racist and abolitionist figures like Harriet Tubman. That’s pretty audacious and, and he’s, he’s also in one of his books compared his adventures to those of Abraham Lincoln, and so important anti-slavery, figureheads. And, you know, Lincoln’s importance as an anti-slavery figurehead is highly contested, but then at the same time he did, he did make a change and I think that Tim Ballard is misleading people by equating himself, himself to these people who have impacted the scene of slavery in the United States. And the person that I interviewed for this piece, Dr. Lindsay Gezinski, here at the [University of Utah] even mentioned that his, his narrative is ridden with a white savior complex just because you tell the story about going to, you know, South America maybe and rescuing children of color and, and women, but you don’t have evidence to back up that you actually helping these people. That’s an important, misleading part of his rise to fame and his claim to fame.

Stevie Shaughnessey: Why do you think he [could be] so popular as a candidate for Senate, especially in Utah?

NingLi Loken: He does have, he does hold sway on the conservative religious audience of the dominant religious group here, which is, you know, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and so he has repeatedly expressed that he’s called of — that he’s been called by God. This idea that, like, people have a calling, people have a religious duty is very appealing, and I think that it can easily lead to folks being hoodwinked about the supposed good nature of his efforts.

Stevie Shaughnessey: How do you think that this distrust that Tim Ballard is creating around organizations that are supposed to be helping victims is going to affect other organizations?

NingLi Loken: Oh, that’s, that’s a good question. I know that other anti-trafficking organizations condemn Tim Ballard because they don’t like the image that he puts up for anti-trafficking, and I think that influencing the way that — making trafficking militaristic, or painting it under a militaristic image, is especially harmful for other organizations that want to center care, and when you want to center care you’re not focusing on busting people, you’re not focusing on villainizing, or criminalizing them. What you’re focusing on is providing things like therapy, housing, food, for people who don’t have those things otherwise and who may have turned to traffickers — either starting off willingly, possibly unwilling; like there’s this misperception that trafficking victims are like snatched off the street all the time. But most of the case, that’s, that’s not it. Most of the case, there is a level of like, how much of a choice can you say that you have when you’re in really desperate conditions. But there is a level of, like, consciousness that goes into the situation and people being aware of the contradictions that people, that trafficking victims live with, is important for us to develop empathy. And I think that what he does is, you know, elevates himself to the status of hero while also trampling on potential for creating empathy for these trafficking victims.

I think that people can learn from him that politicians do and will lie. They will do it through their teeth, they’ll do it with a smile on their face and openly, even if there’s evidence that points to something otherwise. So this lesson that we can, that we can learn is to be wary of politicians who want to glorify themselves and like, to look into how other people receive them, in their workplaces, in their industry that they’re known for. These are vital parts of a politician’s personal history and will indicate the integrity that they have going into their field, even as they navigate moral difficulties. Like, there’s a difference between voting for something that you might not, voting for something that you have trouble with and might not agree with but need to do so in order to compromise and, you know, betraying the public by lying. Those can be seen as like two political misdoings but one is egregious, egregiously more harmful than the other.

Stevie Shaughnessey: Why do you think this is important for students at the U to know and understand what’s going on?

NingLi Loken: I know that as I entered college, so I started at BYU and I was 18 years old and kind of like, a little bit under-educated about politics, and the power of the people’s vote. So, I didn’t end up voting when I turned 18 and that’s one of the regrets that I hold. Like, I know, some people say, like, ‘Oh, I don’t have any regrets,’ but I do think that if I would go back and do something differently, like one of the things would be is, like, I would take every chance that I have to vote, and so just to give people insight into politics, and be like, ‘Hey, you can actually make a difference as a student.’

You might be fresh out of high school, but, like, you are, you are a full fledged adult at this point in the eyes of the law and you can take advantage of that and really own it and make it yours by educating yourself and by learning about what politicians, at least, at least about what they do on their non-political time because knowing about, knowing about politicians’ names is different from being familiar with, like, the rapport that they have, or the potential abuses that they’ve perpetrated. Those are, I think those are really important to keep out of the office. And so the more people and students who know about it, the more that they can be empowered to take the political scene into their own hands and realize the power that they have as the people.

Stevie Shaughnessey: Well, thank you so much for coming on today. What are some of your final thoughts about the piece?

NingLi Loken: Just that I, I really enjoyed interviewing the professor at the U. I really enjoyed interviewing Dr. Lindsay Gezinski because she brought up carceral feminism. She brought up, like, criminalization and issues that I was really looking to, looking to add to the article with real professional perspective. So, just my effort has gone into this, but also my awe as well. It’s been a real opportunity to be with the Chronicle and to learn from people as time goes on and as I find more, more people to talk to for the pieces. And so, anybody who has a story to tell that is relevant to the lives of the oppressed, I’m always willing to listen, and that’s kind of my goal in all of the pieces that I have with the Chrony. Just to speak, and, and to do it with bravery, you know, because not everybody gets a chance to represent themselves, and so to be able to be a conduit for that, to be able to amplify important stories and voices is important to me.

Stevie Shaughnessey: Speaking of your piece, when does this piece come out and where can students find it around campus?

NingLi Loken: So the Business & Politics issue comes out on Oct. 23 and students can find it all over the campus in the newspaper stands and in pretty much all of the buildings. In the entrances, look for them at the entrances of buildings and desks. 

Stevie Shaughnessey: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us today on this episode NingLi. I’ve really appreciated you taking your time to come on the podcast and talk about this topic, and make sure you guys go check out this piece and find it around campus, and thank you for listening to Point of View, the Daily Utah Chronicle’s opinion podcast. Make sure you stay tuned for new episodes coming each month.


Transcribed by


This Point of View episode has been edited to make corrections related to the allegations made against Tim Ballard and Operation Underground Railroad.


Producer and Host: Stevie Shaughnessey — [email protected]  | @steviechrony


Guest: NingLi Loken [email protected] | @ningli_loken

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About the Contributors
Stevie Shaughnessey
Stevie Shaughnessey, Home Stretch Producer, Host
Stevie is a junior transfer student at the U who is majoring in communications with an emphasis in journalism, and minoring in documentary studies. In her free time, Stevie likes to take part in many different activities, such as dirt bike riding, snowboarding and photography.
Sam Garcia
Sam Garcia, Designer
(she/her) Sam Garcia is a junior studying Graphic Design and minoring in Computer Science. She has a bubbly and energetic personality. Loves drawing, painting, taking care of her plants, and getting shredded at the gym.

Comments (1)

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    Sonda BluemelOct 17, 2023 at 1:58 pm

    Wow. What a mischaracterization of what Tim Ballard does and has done. Obviously, the author did not talk to Mr. Ballard or get his perspective. There are so many flaws in NingLi’s thinking that I can’t understand why anyone would think her writing is unbiased. Allegations are not guilty verdicts. After-care is a huge part of what Tim does. People who sell kids for sex are highly dangerous and getting them to stop selling kids for sex requires military level intervention. People who sell kids for sex need to go to jail for the rest of their lives, whether those people are men or women. Tim goes to South America because they do not have the various police forces like the United States has. Tim advocates for stricter enforcement of border laws that are already on the books; he does not advocate for shooting trafficking victims coming across the border. Also, Tim did not direct the movie, Sound of Freedom. Please get your facts in order and get your biases out of the way. Until you do, you cannot be considered a serious journalist.