Sound of Freedom is a 2023 crime thriller starring Jim Caviezel. The film centers around true-life figure Tim Ballard, an ex-homeland security investigator who pursued a life of vigilance to stop child trafficking under the organization known as Operation Underground Railroad. The movie was in development at 20th Century Fox and completed shooting in 2018. In 2019, Disney acquired Fox and decided to shelve the film. The film’s producer spent years trying to reattain the rights from Disney and shopped it elsewhere.
Sound of Freedom would ultimately be sold to Angel Studios, known for appealing to a predominantly Christian/Mormon audience. They agreed to buy the rights and crowdfunded a campaign to push the film into theaters.
The film debuted in American theaters on July 4th, 2023. Despite the competition, Sound of Freedom made enough money to be #1 at the box office…for one day…by a mere 2.5 million dollars. But a success is a success, and the conservative Christian crowd ran with this as their positive press.
But there was another type of press the film gained. Other outlets reported that Sound of Freedom’s central figure and people behind the picture were pushing the QAnon movement that uses child trafficking activism as all the justification they need to concoct the most absurd of conspiracy theories. And rather than confront these claims and critically prove that these beliefs did not hinder the film, the devoted audience and promoters took the easy route and declared it fake news.
There is plenty of evidence to support that Sound of Freedom is a trojan horse for right-wing conspiracies, but let’s start with the film’s distributor because there’s a reason why Angel Studios decided to distribute this film theatrically.
Angel Studios was initially known in 2014 as VidAngel. The then-company aimed to sell edited versions of popular Hollywood movies to Mormons. Although they intentionally broke copyright law, VidAngel tried to find legal loopholes around being fined. They didn’t work. After being sued by the studios and eventually settling on an amount, VidAngel stopped their editing service and focused on creating original media projects such as Angel Studios.
Angel Studios started off small in 2017 with their stand-up comedy show, Dry Bar Comedy, an inoffensive boomer-friendly version of stand-up that could be watched with the family. Their first major narrative TV series, arguably their most significant success to date, was 2019’s The Chosen, a historical drama around the Christian Bible stories of Jesus and other notable figures.
Later, Angel Studios adapted the children’s book series, The Tuttle Twins, written by Connor Boyack. The books centered on two kids learning history, politics, and economics.
In truth, these are books written from a Mormon Libertarian perspective. This becomes incredibly obvious in The Tuttle Twins and the Search for Atlas. The book isn’t even trying to cover up that it’s pushing Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, as it outright admits this in the description. Rand’s philosophy in her work was gross, considering she promoted the virtues of selfishness. That’s not an exaggeration; she literally wrote a book called The Virtues of Selfishness.
Connor Boyack is also more than just some author trying to teach kids. He’s the president of the free market think tank known as Libertas Institute. According to his website, he describes himself as a Freedom Fighter and Thought Leader. And he’s exactly as annoying as you’d expect for giving himself such labels, based on how he spends way, way too much time on Twitter posting right-wing garbage memes and articles.
Also, the crowdfunding campaign is one of the most embarrassing capitalist bootlicking videos I’ve ever seen.
The studio’s next animation production was The Wingfeather Saga, a fantasy adventure based on a series of books about a family of cryptozoologists.
The show hired Doug TenNapel as an illustrator, the guy who created Earthworm Jim and Neverhood. Sounds like a good get, right?
The sad truth is that TenNapel had transformed into a right-wing recluse by this point in time. He had spent years writing for Breitbart, a website so grossly far-right that even right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro wouldn’t work for them. TenNapel would boldly pronounce being homophobic and transphobic to the point where artists refused to work with him. And then he went through all the same right-wing talking points. He downplayed the January 6th insurrection, promoted paranoia about vaccines, and so much more. It should not be a surprise that the Earthworm Jim revival died.
My point in bringing up these productions is that Angel Studios has no scruples about who they work with. This does not mean that they only hire right-wing dorks or propagandist Libertarians with a Randian bent, but they sure seem to be uncritical of how this appears.
It’s like that saying about Republicans, where not all Republicans are racists but all racists vote Republican. It’s something that you should be more knowing of when an organization will not question who they associate with.
This is why the associations that Angel Studios is willing to make are concerning. It also perfectly illustrates the issues of those involved with Sound of Freedom. Namely, it’s central actor and real-life figure are believers in the cult of QAnon.
But before we go further, let’s first describe what QAnon is so there’s no confusion. The reason why will become apparent shortly.
QAnon is a right-wing conspiracy about a mysterious user named Q who dropped clues about government secrets regarding child trafficking, hidden politicians faking their deaths, shadowy government actions, and the infamous Frazzledrip theory, that there somehow exists a video of Hillary Clinton drinking the blood of children.
QAnon’s information came through various drops on the image board 8Chan. It’s like 4Chan but with even more underage pornography, grotesque discussions, and occupied by the worst members of humanity. The irony of Q’s followers using this website to combat child trafficking is too rich for words.
QAnon has been proven time and time again to be little more than nonsense at best and dangerous rhetoric at its worst. If you want a more complete picture, a documentary series called Q: Into The Storm (through HBO), which better documents this phenomenon and the people behind it.
QAnon is kinda posed like Fight Club, where the first rule is you don’t talk about QAnon. The obscurity gives the movement a coat of ambiguity. That way, someone trying to defend a QAnon figure can play dumb by saying they think it’s a made-up word. Or they might only know of QAnon because somebody mentioned the movement was against child trafficking. And child trafficking is bad, therefore, QAnon must be good for combating it.
That’s just the carrot though. QAnon follows a familiar pattern of conspiracy theory by rooting it in an initial truth. It takes something that is real and concerning, that being child trafficking, and then tries to convince you that part of child trafficking involves Tom Hanks consuming child blood. Why would they lie? They’re against child trafficking. And if you’ll believe that, then Q can convince you to believe in even more absurd claims.
This provides a perfect cover. If you’re against Q, then the devout can simply claim you’re promoting child trafficking by not joining in this movement. Similarly, this has been the primary defense of Sound of Freedom. If you’re against the movie, then the fans can simply claim that you must be okay with child trafficking. It’s a simple, lazy, and uncritical way to feel safe.
And if you’re wondering how any of this could be dangerous, you need only look to Pizzagate. Pizzagate was a conspiracy in which a pizza parlor secretly trafficked children and harvested their blood. One believer in this theory decided to do something and brought a gun to the establishment with the intent to kill.
The QAnon cult are one misread message away from enacting something dangerous by buying into unproven and absurd theories.
So now that we know QAnon isn’t just some boogeyman buzzword, what relation does it have to Sound of Freedom’s star and figure?
Jim Caviezel appeared remotely at a 2021 conference for Rhema Bible Training College to promote the film Sound of Freedom. During this appearance, he brought up aspects of QAnon.
Tim Ballard also has a history of promoting QAnon conspiracies online, including the Wayfair conspiracy, which claimed a retailer was selling children concealed in furniture, a claim with zero evidence.
During the film’s run, Jim Caviezel and Tim Ballard also went on several shows to promote the film. And by shows, I mean the right-wing brand of outlets like Fox News, Glenn Beck, Tim Pool, and Jordan Peterson. During these interviews, they further pushed the adrenochrome conspiracy (that Africa was harvesting child organs and blood) and tried to relate child trafficking to being a component of being gay and transgender.
And as if that weren’t bad enough, there’s also some less-favorable promoters of the film. This includes racist Christian filmmaker Mel Gibson, failed tech mogul and social media destroyer Elon Musk, failed screenwriter and Barbie-movie bemoaner Ben Shapiro, former meth dealer and YouTube chud Nerdrotic, disgraced and indicted former president Donald Trump, and the evangelical think-tank and civil rights rollbacking group Family Research Council.
So, while the film’s content isn’t overtly pushing right-wing or QAnon conspiracies, it’s got a lot of bad fingerprints all over it. And Angel Studios has remained mostly indifferent about these concerning issues.
If you have no frame of reference for where Sound of Freedom came from, you may think of it as a little independent film that rose from the depths and defied bigger studios. This is not entirely true.
The “Pay It Forward” campaign by the studio was meant for the audience to buy tickets for those who could not afford one.
Roughly $2.6 million of its initial box office gross came from the studio encouraging their audience to overpay for the film. And that’s about the same number it needed to beat out Indiana Jones for July 4th.
There’s another problem with this Pay it Forward method, though. The tickets bought seem not to have been claimed, but the purchases still went through. This led to several sold-out showings containing many empty seats. This has been cited by numerous people, including fans who went to the movie.
So it’s less like a rising of audiences going to see this movie and more like the studio was convincing their patrons to help them astroturf the box office.
Theaters have got to be angry about this. Sold-out showings with nobody in the theater mean no concession sales.
But theaters are also aggravated that conspiracy theorists are being encouraged to come. This has led to several Sound of Freedom fans believing that AMC was trying to sabotage their showing because the air conditioning broke. Yes, it sure is suspicious that the theater’s AC wasn’t working in the middle of, oh I dunno, the hottest summer on record. This led to AMC’S CEO firing back at these ridiculous social media claims.
Okay, so the box office was inflated, and the people involved with making it were gross, but the film had so many people promoting it. After all, it’s based on a real-world issue and a true story, making it all the more important to watch, right?
Yeah, um, about that.
Sound of Freedom embellishes so much of the story behind Tim Ballard. The bulk of the film portrays him as a vigilant hero who infiltrates criminal dens and beats down the people who kidnap children.
The American Crime Journal discovered that the case portrayed in the film had little involvement from Tim and that the details were highly fabricated.
His group, Operation Underground Railroad, staged sting operations in several Latin American countries to rescue those children. These stings were documented with video.
Operation Underground Railroad claims they found long-term support for the kids they rescued, but this is not true. According to Foreign Policy, several girls rescued in the Dominican Republic in 2014 were not cared for due to a lack of resources and were forced back onto the streets. In many cases, OUR left the clean-up for the local authorities, who either couldn’t care for the many trafficked children or were complicit in these crimes due to corruption.
OUR was not some elite band of mercenaries who tracked child traffickers as the film portrays them. Several investigations reported how the various sting operations were messy. The teams assembled were often donors with little experience handling these situations. Intelligence gathered on finding the child traffickers was inferior, even going so far as to rely on psychics to track the traffickers.
Anne Gallagher, an expert on human trafficking, commented how OUR had “[an] alarming lack of understanding about how sophisticated criminal trafficking networks must be approached and dismantled.” This lack of insight led to the organization gathering poor data on their targets, misidentifying victims, and even confusing consensual prostitution with trafficking.
Everything about OUR just makes it seem less like some devoted cause to saving children and more like a batch of amateurs who raided an army surplus store and want to pretend they’re Batman; playing vigilante but never doing any of the less action-oriented work to ensure child trafficking stops.
It should also be noted that when Sound of Freedom emerged, Tim Ballard wasn’t even a part of OUR. This news came directly from OUR’s spokesperson, who reported on his firing, but only after the movie had come out, which showcased Tim as the hero of OUR. He has not been the president of the organization for several months prior.
And it was later revealed why Tim was kicked out of OUR. He had been accused of sexual harassment within the organization. Apparently, during his missions, he would hire women to act as his wife for a convincing cover and tried to force them into sex. In one instance, he told one of the women working with the organization that she should sleep with him “under the premise of going where it takes and doing ‘whatever it takes’ to save a child.”
I’m going to repeat that with context. Tim Ballard, the central character of Sound of Freedom, the anti-child trafficking leader that the film holds up and wants you to revere for his efforts, was kicked out of his anti-trafficking group…for sexual harassment.
This was so bad that even the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has condemned Tim’s actions and can no longer stand behind him. Tim will deny this but this information has been confirmed by Utah outlets.
Tim is also trying to run for the senate because, of course, he is. Where else can a disgraced virtual signaling sex pest go?
Okay, but let’s say, for the sake of argument, you’re a piece of shit and you don’t care that Tim sexually harassed women or that his religion disowned him. Perhaps you believe it was all for the greater good of stopping child traffickers. I’m sorry to say this, but Tim was also really bad at his job.
In 2014, Meg Conley went along with Tim and OUR on one of their stings. Despite sharing the same religious beliefs and commitment to the cause, she grew with doubt as the mission continued. Her concerns started with how Tim wanted the entire raid filmed professionally, trying to pitch it as a reality show.
She was told she’d be part of the sting operation at a house where she would keep the kids out of the way. She would remain outside with the kids while Tim, OUR, and the cops would make the bust inside. This is not what happened. Meg was still inside when Tim gave the signal and had guns forced in her face by local authorities, demanding she gets on the ground. She complied as the crying children were led through the house, still wet from the pool. The housekeeper, not informed of the raid either, was terrified by the presence of people with guns, a concern that Meg had, but Tim did not.
Meg was mortified. Even though she remained supportive of the organization after that raid, her support would dwindle. She reached her limit when a US State Department combating trafficking criticized OUR. Tim sent Meg this article and called the author a bitch, demanding Meg write a retort. She refused. You can only imagine what Tim thinks of Meg after coming forward about Tim’s terrible tactics.
Later, Meg connected with actual child trafficking experts, and they were horrified by what she described.
The way that Meg processed the actions of Tim was that he didn’t really give a shit about stopping child trafficking in the long term. The short version is that he wanted to sell a reality show that nobody bought.
But its not all bad, is it? They’re still promoting anti-child trafficking, right? That’s still good.
Yeah, about that.
At the end of the film, as the credits roll, there’s a message to take action and spread the word about this movie. Not the cause, the movie.
A QR code then appears on the screen. The code does not send you to a website about combating child trafficking. It sends you to a page where you can buy more tickets to the movie. It sure seems like the studio cares more about promoting this film and not actually directing you to resources that can do something about child trafficking.
You might be wondering why the film doesn’t just point to OUR or Tim Ballard since they’re right there in the film. But there is a reason for this: OUR is a mess, and Tim Ballard is a lying grifter.
Having left OUR, Ballard turned his attention toward a new organization, The SPEAR Fund. The fund, supposedly, is meant to hire anti-trafficking experts for special projects. The website does not explain what the projects are or how specifically the money will be used. What the website does contain is a giant donation button where you can pledge as much as $250.
The only other info on the website is that the title says it’s inspired by the movie Sound of Freedom. Did you like Sound of Freedom? Did you enjoy throwing extra money at it while pretending you’re doing something about child trafficking? Then, hey, why not throw even more money at this…fund. It’s headed by Tim Ballard, the guy from the film. So give Tim your cash, and he’ll find a way to fight child trafficking…somehow…with a method he has yet to explain…or how much money it will take.
I initially thought this was meant to fund a documentary on child trafficking that Tim said he was working on with Mel Gibson. But this was a lie, as Gibson’s publicist has confirmed he is working on no such project.
So many people want to believe that Sound of Freedom is some underdog movie, as though nobody wants to make a film about child trafficking. This is not true. There are plenty of examples of far better films on the topic, such as the highly underrated You Were Never Really Here and documentaries such as Frontline’s Sex Trafficking in America.
And if you’re serious about child trafficking and want to do more than virtue signal for a piss-poor movie, here are some resources and organizations that you can support. Your time and money are bound to go further here than at Angel Studios of all places.
Because Sound of Freedom is not an inspiring true story about one man who broke the rules and saved children; it’s a revenge fantasy, both for Tim and the conservative audience who so desperately want to believe that a bunch of ragtag Christian freedom fighters will end child trafficking. They will not and if we’re truly serious about this issue, then we need to stop taking grifters and conspirators seriously.