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Alex Goodlett, Deseret News
Tim Ballard, founder of Operation Underground Railroad, poses for a portrait behind the Deveraux Mansion in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 5, 2017.

Timothy Ballard was recently with two friends when one asked about his latest books, "The Lincoln Hypothesis" and "The Washington Hypothesis." Mention of the books flabbergasted the other friend, a man who had worked with Ballard for a year.

"What books?" the man said. "I have been in Deseret Book how many times and I’ve seen those books. I’ve always thought, 'What a coincidence, that guy has the same name as my boss.'"

Brian Howard, the host of "Latter-day Profiles," admitted to not knowing until preparing for an interview with Ballard.

"You're also an author. I was surprised because I had heard about Operation Underground Railroad, but I didn't realize all the books you had done, and fascinating topics as well," Howard said.

Most people hear the name Tim Ballard and identify him as the founder and CEO of Operation Underground Railroad, the guy who slaps handcuffs on sex-trafficking criminals. Few recognize he is also Timothy Ballard, the best-selling author of several books that explore connections between key events and leaders in American history and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"It's funny," said Ballard, a graduate of Brigham Young University. "People will mention the books or OUR, but it's rarely together."

For Ballard, a husband and father of seven (soon to adopt two more), his work to rescue children from human trafficking and his passion for American history are connected. Digging into and writing about the lives of key historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and others, along with exploring battlefields and monuments, has not only inspired him but has strengthened his Latter-day Saint faith.

As Americans prepare to celebrate Independence Day, the former CIA special agent and undercover operative for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security discussed his love of U.S. history and how it has influenced his life.

Feeling something

When Ballard was in fifth grade, he went on a field trip with the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge to various historic sites in the Eastern United States.

"It was there that I felt something. History wasn't just dates and names in a book. … Being there, I felt something," Ballard said, explaining that the field trip was when he fell in love with history.

Today it's Ballard's opinion that when people visit historic sites and have soul-stirring feelings, it's not by mistake.

"I truly believe that what you are feeling (at these sites) is the Spirit, and not just the Spirit, but the spirits of those people," he said. "I believe people are at those monuments and on those battlefields to testify of the truth of what they were doing, what they were fighting for. That’s what you feel when you are walking at Gettysburg or Dorchester Heights or the Lincoln Memorial. I believe there are angels there testifying."

Years later Ballard accepted a job with the Central Intelligence Agency and moved with his wife and their firstborn to Washington D.C. It was his first visit to the nation's capital, and even though it was almost midnight when they arrived, he wanted to climb the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and pay homage to the 16th president of the United States.

It was around 1 a.m., in the shadows of the grand Lincoln sculpture, that Ballard held his baby son and felt something spiritual.

"There was something about Lincoln," Ballard said. "I couldn't articulate it, but it was something connected to the Restoration."

Ballard's impression that night led him on a 10-year personal investigation into Lincoln and possible gospel ties and resulted in him publishing "The Lincoln Hypothesis" in 2014. As part of his research, Ballard went to the Library of Congress to examine its first-edition copy of the Book of Mormon, which Lincoln checked out for about eight months during the Civil War. Ballard describes his experience in great detail in his book and came away with some thought-provoking conclusions, including one about the timing of events.

"Seven days after he turned the book back in, he lays out the first preliminary copy of the Emancipation Proclamation to an awe-struck and disappointed Cabinet who didn't want to see this happen," Ballard said. "What was he doing with this book?"

Finding light

In addition to writing the "The Lincoln Hypothesis," Ballard has published "The Covenant" (2012), "The American Covenant, Vol. I and Vol. II" (2011 and 2014), and "The Covenant, Lincoln, and the War" (2012) and "The Washington Hypothesis" (2016).

Ballard never intended to be a writer.

As an undercover operator for the U.S. government, Ballard found himself in "dark places and needed light," he said. Into these circumstances he would bring his Book of Mormon and books about American history because he found inspiration and power in the lives of people like Lincoln, Washington and Harriet Tubman, "people who went into dark places and still kept the light," he said.

"They went into these dark places, darker than where I’m going," Ballard said. "How did they get out of it? They found success against all odds. I sought inspiration, that’s it."

The more Ballard read, the more he noticed parallels to the gospel Restoration. Ballard already knew America was the host nation for the Restoration, but through his reading and research he discovered many lesser-known details that fit together like pieces in a puzzle.

"All of a sudden my notebook was full of the inexplicable things that Washington and Lincoln did or said that only make sense with the Restoration of the gospel," Ballard said.

Over the years, Ballard has done most of his reading, researching and writing on airplanes and in hotel rooms. What he has learned from digging into American history has not only been educational, it has also greatly strengthened his faith.

"It fits too perfectly, so perfectly that it’s easier to believe that the gospel is real and that Joseph Smith was a prophet than it is to believe this many coincidences could just line up," Ballard said. "This is the land of the Restoration, prophesied thousands of years ago, a covenant and special place. We should expect as LDS people to dig into that history and find crazy, amazing things that happened because they are there. Are there historians in the world who are trying to hide those things? Absolutely. If not intentionally, out of not caring or not knowing the significance. So it’s our job to dig in.

"When you have the full context of the gospel, and the Book of Mormon, which talks so much about the covenant on this land, you have that tool and a whole new lens to read American history, and all it does is increase your testimony."

Miracles and heroes

The era of Lincoln and the Civil War is what most resonates with Ballard.

The miracle that strikes him to the core happened in 1862 when Union Private Barton Mitchell found "Special Order 191," Confederate General Robert E. Lee's secret battle plans, giving the North the upper hand at the Battle of Antietam. With the plans, the Union was able to turn back the South, giving Lincoln enough confidence to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, Ballard said.

When asked who he would most like to speak with from any period of history, these were the names Ballard mentioned. Deseret News graphic by Elise Madsen

"Lincoln made a covenant with God that 'if we win, I will issue the Emancipation Proclamation.' They barely win in the bloodiest battle and Lincoln knows God has decided this question in favor of the slaves," Ballard said. "Barton Mitchell is walking through a field 30 miles from the battlefield and stumbles over the secret plans. No one can explain to this day how it happened. … It’s hard to say that wasn’t the thing that tipped the scales. It was a miracle. These are the things we find when we live in a covenant land."

It was also no surprise to Ballard that Lincoln and his secretary of state, William H. Seward, were among those whose temple work was performed in the St. George Temple in 1877 by Wilford Woodruff and others.

"It bridges the gap between the Restoration and American history," Ballard said.

Why care?

Why should Americans, and especially Latter-day Saints, care about American history? Why is it relevant today?

Ballard acknowledged we live in dark and uncertain times, but so did men like Washington and Lincoln. These men trusted in God and invoked the national covenant (promised blessings for those living righteously in his promised land) and "in ways that are incomprehensible … it was miracle after miracle after miracle," Ballard said.

"What people need to understand is we need that formula. It’s a simple formula. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be an easy process, but we need a national leader like Lincoln or Washington to stand up and invoke the covenant; it’s the only way out of any mess," Ballard said.

"LDS people don’t have a corner on this market, but they have an advantage because the Book of Mormon teaches that covenant. It’s also in the Bible. But we all need to start rising up and invoking this covenant pretty quickly."

Email: ttoone@deseretnews.com Twitter: tbtoone