Sound of Freedom, the movie about a heroic American saving children from traffickers in Colombia, is a surprise box-office hit of the summer. But it’s also getting attention because the man at the center of the film and the actor who plays him embrace QAnon conspiracy theories.
What is Sound of Freedom about?
The film stars Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ) as Tim Ballard, a former Department of Homeland Security employee who went on to found a group called Operation Underground Railroad to fight child trafficking, often through sting operations. It depicts Ballard rescuing a brother and sister who’ve been lured away from Honduras by traffickers and taken to a jungle in Colombia.
Some commentators have said that in dramatizing Ballard’s work, Sound of Freedom exaggerates it and distorts the nature of child trafficking. And while it does not push QAnon ideology, both Ballard and Caviezel have stated their belief in QAnon claims, continuing to do so while promoting the film.
What Is QAnon?
QAnon adherents have said they hope the movie brings more into the fold.
QAnon is named for a person identified only as “Q” who began posting conspiracy theories on the website 4chan in 2017. Chief among them is “the false belief that a highly organized network of global elites are kidnapping children, having sex with them and harvesting their blood,” The Washington Postexplains. A similar theory that predated QAnon was Pizzagate, which falsely claimed that a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant was the headquarters of a pedophile ring that included Bill and Hillary Clinton. It led an armed man to attack the restaurant in 2016.
Caviezel recently appeared on Steve Bannon’s podcast and promoted the QAnon theory that a cabal is targeting children in order to harvest a chemical called adenochrome from their bodies. Adenochrome is “10 times more potent than heroin” and “has some mystical qualities as far as making you look younger,” the actor said on Bannon’s show, according to NPR.
Caviezel had made similar comments at a QAnon-related conference in 2021, after the film was made but two years before its release. “If a child knows he’s going to die, his body will secrete this adrenaline,” he said, according to the Post. He also said Sound of Freedom was one of the best movies he’d ever made and was “Academy Award level.”
Ballard likewise expressed belief in the adenochrome theory in a recent interview with podcaster Jordan Peterson. Peterson, by the way, is well-known for his anti-trans views. In years past, Ballard has made other wild claims, such as that trafficked children were being shipped in storage cabinets marketed by online retailer Wayfair.
Sound of Freedom doesn’t mention adenochrome harvesting — and “in reality, adrenochrome is a relatively mundane chemical compound created by oxidizing adrenaline,” the Post notes. But some observers worry that the film will win support for this claim, and indeed, QAnon believers are counting on it. “New to Q? With the ‘Sound of Freedom’ movie dominating the box office and giving Hollywood seizures, we have a lot of new eyes on us!” reads a headline on one QAnon site, NPR reports.
What Is Sound of Freedom's Other Connections to QAnon?
“It’s being marketed to QAnon believers, it’s being embraced by this community, and its leading actor is a huge part of the QAnon community,” Mike Rothschild, author of The Storm Is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything, told NPR’s Morning Edition.
Another right-winger who is embracing the film is Donald Trump, who is scheduled to host a screening Wednesday at his Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., NPR reports. The former president is a hero of the QAnon movement, whose supporters claim he’s fighting the cabal.
For Ballard, his fame also seems to be a way to win converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a.k.a. the Mormon Church, trafficking experts Vanessa Bouché and Ava Kamdem wrote in a column published Wednesday in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He has stated as much regarding Operation Underground Railroad. “This is particularly problematic for an anti-trafficking organization that can potentially use its position of influence to manipulate a vulnerable population into conversion,” Bouché and Kamdem commented.
They and others have expressed concern that Operation Underground Railroad (which Ballard recently left) and Sound of Freedom give an inaccurate picture of trafficking. While the film depicts children being kidnapped by strangers, the perpetrators of trafficking are more commonly people known to their victims, Elizabeth Campbell, co-director of the University of Michigan’s Human Trafficking Clinic, told NPR.
And while Ballard has endorsed a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border to stop trafficking, “the vast majority of sex trafficking in the United States is perpetrated by American citizens on American victims, most of whom are women and girls of color,” Bouché and Kamdem wrote. “Claims like Ballard’s lead to bad policy and misdirected resource allocation.
In addition, trafficking can take other forms besides sexual exploitation. These include forced labor, Campbell said in her NPR interview. “It becomes easy for people to say, ‘Well, if I just spread a message that we need to support law enforcement in freeing these child victims,’ they don’t have to do the hard work of asking what role they play in the purchasing of goods for forced labor, or they don’t have to play the hard role of figuring out how do we reduce poverty and the sort of inherent vulnerability that comes with poverty that leads to this kind of exploitation,” she said.
Others have said that overseas, police are sometimes complicit in trafficking or at least don’t follow up with victims. In some cases, children who were rescued by Ballard’s group were soon back on the streets.
Sound of Freedom has grossed nearly $100 million in ticket sales in its first two weeks of release. That includes last weekend’s take of $27 million, according to IMDB — second only to the new Mission: Impossible film, although its $55 million gross doubled Sound of Freedom’s showing.
Sound of Freedom had been in the works for several years. 20th Century Studios was originally going to make the film, but those plans fell apart after Disney bought the company in 2019, the Post reports. The project eventually found a home at the religiously focused Angel Studios. Executives at Angel Studios have publicly distanced themselves from QAnon and said the movie doesn’t promote conspiracy theories.