World Wrestling Entertainment referee/talent liaison Drake Wuertz and Matt Morgan, WWE wrestler-turned-mayor of Longwood, Florida, have been coordinating to raise money for a QAnon-adjacent anti-child trafficking charity on company and city time, emails obtained by Motherboard show.
While Operation Underground Railroad says it has no connection to QAnon and vaguely disavows conspiracy theories on its website, the organization has embraced followers of that particular baseless conspiracy theory, rather than condemning it the way that other anti-trafficking charities have.
“Some of these theories have allowed people to open their eyes,” OUR founder/CEO Tim Ballard, a former Department of Homeland Security agent, told the New York Times in August. “So now it’s our job to flood the space with real information so the facts can be shared.” A few weeks earlier, Ballard treated the false and QAnon-supported conspiracy theory that furniture retailer/marketplace Wayfair was a child trafficking hub as a legitimate concern in posts on his Twitter and Instagram accounts. “With or without Wayfair, child trafficking is real and happening!!!” he wrote, adding in the attached video that “law enforcement’s gonna flush that out and we’ll get our answers sooner than later, but I want to tell you this: Children ARE sold that way!”
(The organization also makes a habit of posting videos of the “operations” it claims to help smaller law enforcement agencies with. One recent video profiled the vaguely defined “ops training” that OUR agents must undergo to participate in such “operations.”)
Emails released via public records requests under Florida’s Sunshine Act show Wuertz, the WWE referee, coordinating his activities as a volunteer for Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) via his WWE corporate email, even pledging to solicit WWE performers to appear at an OUR fundraiser. The same emails also appear to show Morgan making an effort to keep his behind-the-scenes discussions of OUR out of the public record, limiting his conversations to non-recorded phone calls and email threads using his personal Gmail account, which isn’t subject to Sunshine Act requests.
The emails were released to Motherboard as part of a cache of 40 pages from the Longwood city government that were responsive to requests about QAnon, Operation Underground Railroad and an August 24 meeting that both Wuertz and Morgan posted about on social media.
According to a calendar entry created by Clint Gioielli, Longwood’s deputy chief of police, it was Morgan who asked for the meeting. There were no minutes or other formal record taken of the meeting, but it seemingly went well, as the next day, Wuertz wrote to Morgan (at his personal email) and Chris Capizzi, Longwood’s director of leisure services (at his city email) to cement plans for an October 17 “movie night” benefiting OUR. Morgan was slotted in as a guest speaker, while Wuertz, in laying out his other plans, was explicitly acting on behalf of both OUR and WWE.
“We will set up an Eventbrite page for online donations,” Wuertz wrote. “We would also like to have an area where we can set up 3 tables (that we would bring). It would be an information area about OUR. and another place for folks to donate if they wish. I’ll work on getting some WWE stars to make an appearance as well.”
“Great work Drake!!!” replied Morgan. “I also forwarded your number to a Carroll [last name redacted], she’s a friend of mine and a resident. She wants to find a way that she can help contribute and be a part of helping Operation Underground Railroad.”
Wuertz then thanked Morgan for the connection, adding that “I spoke with her yesterday…she’s very kind” before moving onto the specifics of what format the movie they were screening (A Dog’s Purpose) should be delivered in among other general setup issues. Throughout, while using his WWE corporate email account, Wuertz routinely referred to OUR as “we,” including when he passed on graphics of their logos to Capizzi and Morgan to use in promotional materials.
In the middle of the event planning, one of Morgan’s constituents, Joel, saw the social media posts about the August 24 meeting and decided to email the mayor to offer help. “My wife told me she saw you post on Facebook about a possible event or fundraiser for Operation Underground Railroad,” Joel wrote. “I have been interested in that group for quite some time. I signed up on their website as a volunteer. I’d like to hear more details about what you are planning and help in any way I can if you need it. I was really happy to hear you were interested in this cause. Thanks!”
Morgan responded just 46 minutes later with a reply that simply read “Call me” with his business cell phone number included.
When reached for comment, a spokesperson for OUR told Motherboard that they’re “not affiliated with the group QAnon in any way, shape or form, and to date we have had no interaction with them.” That spokesperson also included a quote from Ballard softening his July comments somewhat. “I don’t believe there is any evidence when it comes to the recent Wayfair discussion,” he said. “That theory has been debunked.” He still hedged on whether the theory was realistic, though: “I can tell you from 17 years of experience that absolutely children are bought and sold online. Either through social media platforms or various websites, it is happening. It is a very real thing that people need to be aware of.”
OUR did not respond to a follow-up asking why it hasn’t specifically condemned QAnon, as other anti-trafficking charities have. Wuertz, Morgan, and WWE public relations staff did not respond to questions about their support of Operation Underground Railroad and/or QAnon. Morgan did not respond to questions about his seeming reluctance to discuss OUR on his city email account, while WWE did not respond to questions about Wuertz wrangling coworkers (such as executive Paul “Triple H” Levesque) to donate items for auctions benefitting OUR.