Sound of Freedom controversy explained: QAnon & more

Daisy Phillipson
The poster for Sound of Freedom

Sound of Freedom is one of the biggest hits of the year in the US – but it’s also the subject of immense controversy, so here’s what you need to know, including its ties to QAnon, Mel Gibson, and more.

Directed by Alejandro Monteverde, Sound of Freedom centers on Tim Ballard (Jim Caviezel), a federal agent who embarks on a dangerous mission to save young children from sex trafficking. 

Since releasing in cinemas on July 4, the film has become one of the hottest independent properties of the summer, earning third spot in the overall domestic box office behind big budget blockbusters Indiana Jones 5 and Barbie.

While on the surface it appears to be a solid thriller tale, the film has been mired in controversy ever since its development started in 2015. So, here’s what you need to know.

Is Sound of Freedom based on a true story?

Yes, Sound of Freedom is based on a true story – but it’s a bit of a gray area, with many outlets debating the truth behind the truth. Let us explain…

The movie’s protagonist Tim Ballard truly has dedicated his career to hunting predators, having spent 12 years as a special agent for the Department of Homeland Security, where he was deployed as an undercover operative for anti-human trafficking and crimes against children units.

But in previous interviews, Ballard expressed his frustration with the restrictions placed on him while trying to save kidnapped and trafficked children and the lack of strategies and prosecutions against offenders in cases outside of the US. And so, in 2013, he left the government and formed Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), a nonprofit organization focused on rescuing children from sex trafficking rings. 

As per OUR’s website: “Sound of Freedom is a trailblazing film that narrates the real-life story of the founding of Operation Underground Railroad, portraying Tim Ballard’s remarkable path of committing himself to the crucial cause of liberating children from the clutches of sex trafficking across the globe.”

It goes on to state that while the film contains “exaggerated or fabricated elements included for dramatic purposes,” there are numerous factual moments such as the rescue operation on a Colombian island. “In total, 123 survivors were rescued, 55 of which were minors. Known as Operation Triple Take, it remains OUR’s largest undertaking to date.” 

The characters Katy/Giselle (Yessica Borroto Perryman) and Vampiro (Bill Camp) are also said to be based on real people. In short, it sounds like a regular movie based on a true story. However, Sound of Freedom has been mired in controversy, with the critics questioning the events involving Ballard’s organization. 

An investigation led by Vice World News and published in 2020 indicated a “divide between the group’s actual practices and some of its claimed successes.” 

Writer Anna Merlan explained: “Ballard has repeatedly claimed that OUR played a central role in a large anti-trafficking case in New York State and implied that it helped rescue a victim in that case when in fact, according to court transcripts and other records reviewed by Vice World News, she bravely escaped her trafficker on her own.”

She went on to write: “Multiple law enforcement agencies OUR says it has partnered with or supported describe their relationships as insubstantial.”

A number of people familiar with a proposed investigation by the New York Post into OUR, which ultimately didn’t go ahead, told Vice that it concerned whether the group had “made misleading claims to donors and the public about the work it does, and how directly involved it is in rescue operations.”

Why is Sound of Freedom linked to QAnon?

While there’s doubt surrounding OUR, the most significant aspect of discussions about Sound of Freedom has been its links to QAnon. 

For the uninitiated, QAnon is a political conspiracy theory that rose to infamy in 2017 within forum posts from far-righters on 4chan. The core belief of the theory is that a group of Satanic, cannibalistic abusers are operating a child sex trafficking ring, and that this cabal conspired against Donald Trump during his presidency. 

The QAnon flag at the 2020 VCDL Lobby Day

So, what does this have to do with the movie? Well, critics have argued that the plot of the film caters to QAnon supporters. Describing Sound of Freedom as a “QAnon-adjacent thriller,” The Guardian wrote: “The uninitiated may not pick up on the red-yarn-and-corkboard subtext pinned onto a mostly straightforward extraction mission in South America… those tuned in to the eardrum-perforating frequency of QAnon, however, have heeded a clarion call that leads right to the multiplex.”

Highlighting this article, The Washington Post added: “Sound of Freedom has been accused by some critics of warping the truth about child exploitation and catering to QAnon conspiracy theorists – something its distributor, Angel Studios, denies.”

But the links go deeper than the film’s subtext, as both Tim Ballard and the actor who plays him, Jim Caviezel, have indicated their support for conspiracy theories born from the movement. 

TWP highlighted a 2020 tweet in which Ballard discussed the viral theory that the furniture shop Wayfair was trafficking children online. “Law enforcement’s going to flush that out and we’ll get our answers sooner than later,” he said. “But I want to tell you this: children are sold that way.”

In 2021, Caviezel – who was selected by Ballard thanks to his roles in The Count of Monte Cristo and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ – spoke about a particularly extreme belief from the QAnon theory while promoting Sound of Freedom. 

The idea claims that Satanic Hollywood elitists torture children and drink their blood to reap the benefits of a life-giving compound called adrenochrome. As per TWP, while speaking in Oklahoma, Caviezel said Ballard wanted to join him but “he’s down there saving children as we speak, because they’re pulling kids out of the darkest recesses of hell right now, in … all kinds of places, uh, the adrenochroming of children.”

“If a child knows he’s going to die, his body will secrete this adrenaline,” he added. “These people that do it, there’ll be no mercy for them. This is one of the best films I’ve ever done in my life. The film is on Academy Award level.”

Sound of Freedom endorsed by Mel Gibson 

Despite the mixed reception from the critics, Sound of Freedom has been performing incredibly well at the box office following a shaky development and subsequent endorsement from numerous celebrities, including Mel Gibson. 

Work on the script started all the way back in 2015, and it was shot three years later in 2018. Though the rights were snapped up by Fox, when the studio was bought by the Walt Disney Company, the project was shelved – which, as you might imagine, only fuelled the belief that the House of Mouse is in cahoots with the so-called Satanic elitists. 

It’s reported that the filmmakers battled to buy back the rights for Sound of Freedom, which garnered numerous endorsements from A-listers. Mel Gibson shared a video in which he urged people to go and see the film. “One of the most disturbing problems in our world today is human trafficking, and particularly the trafficking of children,” he said. “Now, the first step in eradicating this crime is awareness… go see Sound of Freedom.”

Elsewhere, Elon Musk showed his support by offering free promotion on Twitter. Earlier this year, the movie’s official account shared a tweet which said: “Help us get 2 million people into theaters opening week to remember the 2 million children who are trafficked each year.” To which Musk replied: “I recommend putting it on this platform for free for a brief period or just asking people to subscribe to support (we would not keep any funds).”

QAnon supporters subscribe to the belief that the movie is telling the truth of child sex trafficking and that Disney tried to prevent it from being released. But the accusations don’t stop there…

Cinemas accused of blocking Sound of Freedom screenings

Viewers have accused certain movie theaters of blocking Sound of Freedom screenings… by cutting the air conditioning. 

Taking to TikTok, user @bleighve1112 claimed that AMC pulled “some sketchy crap with The Sound of Freedom.” She said that she and her friends pre-ordered their tickets to see the film, but they were refunded and they weren’t sure why. They decided to head to the cinema to find out what happened, and the staff explained that all tickets were refunded as “there’s no AC in our theaters.”

She said: “So we get to thinking, why did they not send out a notice in the email saying, ‘Hey, we refunded your ticket because there’s no air conditioning’… there was no one in that theater.”

The TikToker went on to claim that while there was no AC in the screening room, it was running in the lobby, hallways, and bathrooms. “I smell something stinky,” she said. 

And this is just one of many cinema-goers alleging that theaters are trying to somehow prevent people from seeing Sound of Freedom. As said by one on Twitter: “My tickets were for theater 12. I went into theater 12 and realized it was a different movie. It was showing in theater 2. Could be a mistake but now I’m not so sure.”

Another wrote: “I had the reverse scenario. I nearly froze. They turned up the air conditioning so much in Regal that it was unbearable, but I refused to move/leave the theater. I’ll likely get sick, but I felt a sense of duty to not leave the theater and felt it was inappropriate to complain considering the content of the movie.”

Not everyone supports the theory, however, with one writing: “The theaters have multiple HVAC units running them – guessing one went out – which happens in the middle of the Summer.”

A second chimed in: “Big buildings have multiple AC units that cool multiple different areas. If that specific unit or units were out, there‘s no other way to cool it.”

Sound of Freedom can be streamed on Prime Video, which you can sign up for here. You can also check out our other coverage below:

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