Sound of Freedom

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Any claims of innocent children being rescued may be highly exaggerated.
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Starring:
Never trust a pedophile.
—Quote from the film.

Sound of Freedom is a 2023[note 1] American film directed and co-written by Alejandro Monteverde, and starring Jim Caviezel (of Passion of the Christ fame and later Q fetishist-cum-Donald Trump ass kisser), Mira Sorvino, and Bill Camp. The film revolves around ex-US government agent and anti-sex trafficking activist Tim BallardWikipedia as he takes part on a mission he dubbed "Operation Underground Railroad" (OUR) where he (supposedly) rescued children from sex traffickers in Colombia. As bad as this film is, even the director was hurt that it became linked with QAnon.[1]

The film was released on July 4, 2023 by Angel StudiosWikipedia[note 2] and received mixed to mildly positive reviews from mainstream film critics, but was apparently well-received by its audience and has earned over $100 million at the box office; its claimed revenue figures have been brought into question, however, especially in light of the so-called "pay-it-forward" referral scheme where viewers are urged to buy extra tickets en masse either with the intent of giving them to others or to do what amounts to stat paddingWikipedia or astroturfing in order to artificially boost box-office figures.[2]

The film is definitely not to be confused with The Sound of Music,Wikipedia though you'd probably be better off watching the latter or perhaps even Paint DryingWikipedia than be brainwashed by this rather boring slog of a film; there have been far more apolitical dramas and documentaries about child sexual abuse and human trafficking than this.

Plot[edit]

The film opens with a poor family in Honduras who are approached by a beauty queen named Giselle. The father (named Roberto) is asked by Giselle if he could allow his children to be in child modeling. He agrees to this and takes them to the photoshot, only to find them missing when Roberto returns to pick them up. Turns out they're being sold as sex slaves.

The movie then turns to Tim Ballard, a special agent working for the homeland security division where he works on charging and arresting pedophiles. The work is traumatizing for Ballard, taking a major toll on his mental health from what he’s seen. He’s then approached by a man pretending to be a child predator.

What's wrong with it[edit]

Intention and audience[edit]

The film paints the plot in much the same way that QAnon views its conspiracy theories: fighting against and exposing a global cabal of powerful pedophiles in the government. Indeed, the right-wing embraced it as a film championing their cause, with numerous wingnut luminaries such as Mel Gibson, Ultimate Fighting ChampionshipWikipedia president and bitch slapperWikipedia extraordinaire Dana White,Wikipedia Elon Musk, Ben Shapiro, Odell Beckham Jr., Tim Tebow, and the Family Research Council. Donald Trump, being the sane, morally-upright champion of family values that he is, held a special screening of the film at one of his golf clubs, much to the delight of his zombie fans,[3] never mind the allegations that he had also been in hock with billionaire financier and paedophile Jeffrey Epstein and had allegedly violated a couple or so minors in the process.[4][5] Propaganda aside, the film's box office numbers have also been the subject of scrutiny, with some alleging that the film's revenue has been inflated in some way either through block-screening empty theatres or the so-called "pay-it-forward" scheme whereby those who viewed the film are encouraged to buy extra tickets in hopes that others would watch.[6][7][8]

One of the film's characters, Vampiro, is described to Tim as a "hero" for buying the trafficked children and releasing them; this approach is doubtful at best and more akin to paying ransom to a kidnapper, further incentivising them to continue their dirty deeds. Even if Vampiro did have any good intentions, the fact that he himself participates in the illicit trade of abducted children fuels the demand for sex slaves and is still a grave crime regardless.[9]

The film's shelving by major studios such as Disney (through its subsidiary 20th Century Fox) raised suspicions from the usual suspects who portrayed it as a victim of cancel culture,[10] though it had more to do with the difficulties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic than anything.[11]

Eduardo Verástegui and the Legion of Christ[edit]

A picture of Eduardo Verástegui kissing the hand of Pope John Paul II. In the middle is notorious pedophile and cult leader Father Marcial MacielWikipedia (1920–2008).

Eduardo Verástegui, one of the film's main actors and producers, who in many aspects is the Mexican version of Kirk Cameron (a former teen idol who became a hateful fundamentalist Christian who no longer acts for any non-Christian production), announced his intention to run as a candidate in the 2024 Mexican presidential elections, using Sound of Freedom to promote his election campaign.[12] Verástegui also believes in the canard accusing LGBTQ+ people of being pedophiles,[13] though his sincerity has been put to question when it was alleged by tabloids in his native Mexico that he himself is gay.[14]. Verástegui's intentions of running for president ended in January 2024, as he was unable to collect the number of necessary signatures to register as an independent candidate.[15]

Further undermining the film's supposed message and moral advocacy is Verástegui's connections with the Legion of Christ, a cult within the Roman Catholic Church founded by one of the Vatican's most notorious pedophiles: Marcial Maciel,Wikipedia as seen in the image.[16][17].

Verástegui is also a strong fanboy of Donald Trump; he was poised to be appointed by the latter as the head of the "Advisory Commission on Hispanic Prosperity" in 2020, which obviously did not come to pass after Trump lost his reelection bid[18]. Obviously, losing potential wingnut welfare made Eduardo very angry and he supported Trump's attempts to overturn the results and, later, the 2021 U.S. coup attempt[19].

QAnonsense[edit]

As mentioned above, the film's (dubious) success has been met with scrutiny from various critics and watchdog groups who took notice of its connections to far-right movements. Many of those involved in the film's production have at least some connection to the QAnon movement, notably Jim Caviezel, whose previous claim to fame was portraying Jesus in Passion of the Christ.[20] Caviezel falsely claimed that Tim Ballard, the anti-child trafficking vigilante whom Caviezel portrayed in the film, has saved children from being harvested for adrenochrome in a fictitious form of Satanic ritual abuse. Ballard was also suspected to have been connected at least in some way, though he denied having any such associations.[21] Despite the cast and crew's assurances that the film's premise is by no means a pro-Q tract, it still could be seen as a propaganda piece for the movement akin to what Birth of a Nation is to the Ku Klux Klan,[22] though other critics have noted that the film may be just cashing in on the QAnon trend and the far right's use of paedophilia as a convenient scapegoat against liberals promoting progressive ideologies and themes which wingnuts perceive as corrupting children and luring them to predators,[23] not to mention that the conservatives who continually parrot screeds against paedophilia (on queerphobic grounds no less) are the very same monstrous beings they seek to destroy,[24] case in point one of the film's many financial backers being arrested and charged with child kidnapping.[25]

Many of Ballard's supposed achievements as portrayed in the film were also called into question, as watchdog groups and the Davis County Attorney’s Office have investigated OUR's claims of their success stories, alleging that the organization has highly embellished their child-saving misadventures in exotic countries and committed communications fraud, witness tampering, and retaliation in the process.[26] While human trafficking is indeed a genuine concern that shouldn't be scoffed off or joked about, some have felt that the film and by extension Ballard's organization is profiting off of the woes of actual abuse victims.[24][27] And if that wasn't enough, Ballard unsurprisingly resorted to the usual playbook of transphobia and xenophobia in interviews about him and his outfit, spuriously claiming that sex education is sexualizing children under the guise of gender awareness, that gender-affirming care is subjecting children to needless mutilation in the form of hormones and sex reassignment surgery, and that such measures ultimately lead to a push for consent laws that supposedly normalize sex with minors. Ballard's xenophobic rhetoric of calls for stricter migrant controls such as the militarization of border security have also been criticized, as it creates more demand for organized crime groups to profit off human smuggling.[8][note 3] It is also alleged that Ballard himself has watched hours of child sex abuse material, further raising questions on his organisation's accountability on top of Verástegui's connections with Marcial Maciel.[28]

Allegations of sexual misconduct and grooming by Ballard[edit]

Tim Ballard at a Turning Point USA conference in 2023.
"They defrauded all of us. They defrauded multimillion-dollar donors. They’re not rescuing children. They’re making a morality play for money."
—Bree Righter, one of the women accusing Ballard of sexual assault, describing Operation Underground Railroad as an alleged scam.[29]

In July 2023, not long after the film's release, Ballard abruptly left Operation Underground Railroad.[26] In mid-September 2023, news stories broke on the reasoning behind the departure: Ballard resigned from the organization following an O.U.R. investigation into claims of Ballard's sexual misconduct involving at least seven women. According to various sources, Ballard invited women to act as his "wife" on undercover missions ostensibly aimed at rescuing victims of sex trafficking. He would then allegedly coerce these women into sharing a bed or showering together, claiming it was necessary to fool traffickers. The intent of Ballard was to groom and manipulate these women with the ultimate goal of coercing them to participate in sexual acts with him, under the premise of doing "whatever it takes" to save a child.[30]

Due to Operation Underground Railroad being strongly supported by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, these revelations resulted in a rare strongly worded public rebuke from the church over Ballard's "morally unacceptable" behavior, as well as a distancing of the church from the organization.[31][32]

Ballard responded to these stories by denying not only the allegations, but also denying that the rebuke from the LDS actually happened. On top of that, he accused the story of being politically motivated (given that Ballard was preparing for a possible run for the U.S. Senate). Finally, Ballard weakly ad hominemed Vice,Wikipedia which broke the story, by accusing the magazine of promoting "the concept that pedophiles should be called ‘minor-attracted persons.’"[33][34]

In the fall of 2023, a total of seven women (along with the husband of Celeste Borys, who served as Ballard's executive assistant) formally filed lawsuits against Ballard and O.U.R., accusing Ballard of sexual assault, and O.U.R. of knowing about the sexual assaults and doing nothing to stop his alleged behavior.[29]

In the lawsuits, Ballard was portrayed as akin to a cult leader: paranoid, narcissistic, and prone to delusions of grandeur, that even went up to the point of "prophesying" Ballard's future as a Mormon prophet that would usher in the second coming of Jesus Christ.[35] According to the lawsuits, Ballard took the sexual behavior with the women posing as his wife to an extreme, with frequent incidents of grinding, ordering the women to strip or give lap dances, and near-sex acts. All of the behavior was justified by Ballard as ways to practice their "chemistry" in order to purportedly be able to maintain a convincing front with traffickers. In addition, Ballard frequently consumed alcohol and drugs during the supposed anti-sex trafficking "missions".[35][36] Reportedly Ballard allegedly claimed that the "couples ruse" scheme used to justify Ballard's alleged extreme sexual behavior came from a "revelation from God". (In fact, Ballard frequently implied that his actions were driven by direct communication with God.)[36]

Ballard also allegedly desired to pose as a "wealthy sex tourist". Naturally, that meant taking thousands of dollars of O.U.R. donor money ostensibly for fighting sex trafficking and spending this on upscale hotel rooms, private transportation, boats, and the like.[36] Ballard, however, was notoriously sloppy for someone supposedly actually doing undercover work. Employees for his "missions" included hairdressers with no undercover training. There was also absolutely no security protocols (and poor security practice) on traceable technology like mobile phones.[36] Ballard's "missions" consisted of gaining "intelligence" about human trafficking by going to random spas, strip clubs, and bars; in practice, there was little evidence that there was any actual human trafficking intelligence gathering during these visits.[36]

The women suing Ballard also additionally reported that they never saw a single child rescued on any O.U.R. operations they were on.[29]

The allegations against Ballard affected the Attorney General of Utah, Sean Reyes,Wikipedia who was known to have a close relationship with O.U.R. and Ballard.[37] Reyes was named as a defendant in one of the lawsuits against Ballard, alleging that he tried to silence an O.U.R. critic. In December 2023, under pressure due to this scandal and others, Reyes announced that he would not seek re-election in 2024.[38]

In December 2023, Borys' complaint was amended to also allege that Ballard violently assaulted Borys, and attempted to pay Borys off after the initial suits were filed. Ballard's wife Katherine was added as a co-conspirator.[39]

In April 2024, the complaint was amended again with additional allegations. The complaint alleged that O.U.R. had given nearly $1 million in grants to Reyes' office "in order to motivate General Reyes to protect Ballard and OUR". As part of this attempt to influence Reyes, Ballard also allegedly arranged a private penthouse at an exclusive social club for Reyes and provided him with "women and cocaine".[40] The amended complaint also alleged that Ballard raped one of the plaintiffs, and that a senior apostle of the LDS church named M. Russell BallardWikipedia was aware of the rape, but chose to not report it to the police.[40]

Ballard denied all of the above allegations. In February 2024, Ballard launched a series of videos called "Unfounded". The first installment, which included a solicitation for donations to Ballard's legal defense fund, accused the women accusing him of sexual misconduct and assault of taking out of context things he said to them when he was undercover and "in character". As a footnote, the producer of this video series (Troy Ables) was also the producer of a podcast called "Last Dispensation" that often focused on moral panics and conspiracies, such as secret societies, satanic ritual abuse, and globalism.[41]

Allegations of defamation[edit]

In February 2024, a Colombian woman named Kely Johana Suárez Moya sued Ballard and the team behind the movie for defamation, injurious falsehood, infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy.[42]

The basis of the Sound of Freedom film was a pedophilia sting operation called "Operation Triple Take" that Ballard and O.U.R. (together with the Colombia intelligence agency CTIWikipedia) set up in Colombia in October 2014. However, according to the lawsuit, the primary purpose of this sting was less a concern for saving children and more a vehicle for generating profits to enrich Ballard. Due to this, Ballard was more than willing to stretch the truth to fit his narrative.[42]

In the movie, Moya is depicted as a former beauty queen named "Katy Giselle" who kidnapped children under the guise of modeling auditions, piled them in shipping containers, and sold them into sex slavery. Movie promotions enforced the notion that Katy Giselle was based on a real person, that this person was Moya, and Giselle's story in the film was based on true events. However, according to the lawsuit, this depiction was entirely false.[42]

In reality, according to the lawsuit, Operation Triple Take was initiated when Ballard set up a "pedophile party" with some locals that he met (which per the lawsuit notably did not include Moya). Ballard then contacted an agent at the CTI so that this "pedophile party" could be busted. Moya, who was 20 at the time, was recruited to the party on the premise that a rich North American was coming to the party looking for a young black girl to have sex with, and that even if this did not work out, she would be paid to attend regardless. (It is worth noting that prostitution in Colombia is legal.Wikipedia) As planned, the party was busted by authorities. Moya was arrested; however, according to the lawsuit, this was because Moya had been mistaken for one of the actual party planners. Moya was not convicted of any crime, and was eventually released via habeas corpus. According to the lawsuit, Moya was not associated with any trafficking whatsoever.[42]

Contrary to Ballard's narrative, according to Moya's lawsuit, all of the attendees for the "pedophile party" (including Moya herself) were merely either recruited from a Facebook post or invited by locals; no actual trafficking occurred, and (in contrast to the movie narrative) none of the attendees at the party were sex slaves, nor were they kept in shipping containers. A large portion of the party attendees actually were over 18. In addition, the CTI agent Ballard worked with later was convicted of corruption and abuse of public office for taking bribes, and at the time of Moya's lawsuit was a fugitive of the law.[42]

Despite the above, according to Moya's lawsuit, Angel Studios doubled down on using Moya's image as a monster child trafficker, claiming that Moya was only released after her arrest due to "corrupt judges".[42]

As with the sexual misconduct allegations, Ballard and his attorneys denied this depiction of the events.[41]

Downfall[edit]

Despite an audience asslicking this film and many people claiming the film not to be QAnon propaganda, the movie and its production were exposed as a giant scam. The movie and its team was funded by a fraud who fought against Medicare and healthcare.[43]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. The film was completed in 2019, but most mainstream studios balked at distributing it due to sensitive subject matter.
  2. Not to be confused with the other Angel Studios, now known as Rockstar San Diego,Wikipedia best known for Midnight Club and the RAGE game engine, though to be fair, they did previously dabble with film effects production.
  3. This wouldn't be the first time that making something illegal (in this case, international travel) without actually eliminating the demand for it just leads to organized crime groups cornering the market on it; see also Prohibition and the War on Drugs.

References[edit]

  1. Sound of Freedom director says Jim Caviezel’s QAnon comments ‘hurt my work’: Alejandro Monteverde speaks out about film’s origins, saying seeing it linked to pedophile conspiracy theory has been ‘heartbreaking’ by Sian Cain (15 Aug 2023 00.04 EDT) The Guardian.
  2. Sound of Freedom passed the $100m mark. Who’s really watching the movie? by Adam Gabbatt (23 Jul 2023 06.00 EDT) The Guardian.
  3. Smith, David (July 20, 2023). "Trump hosts screening of Sound of Freedom, a hit with QAnon devotees". The Guardian. Retrieved July 24, 2023.
  4. Inside Jeffrey Epstein and Donald Trump's Epic Bromance
  5. Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein's Connection, Explained
  6. Astroturfing: Sound Of Freedom's Newest Conspiracy Explained
  7. Sound of Freedom studio shuts down claims of astroturfing
  8. 8.0 8.1 Tim Ballard’s misleading anti-trafficking rhetoric slips seamlessly into transphobia and xenophobia while promoting “Sound of Freedom” on Fox News
  9. 18 U.S. Code § 1591 - Sex trafficking of children or by force, fraud, or coercion
  10. Disney, NYTs, Netflix, etc., show a concerted effort to cancel Sound of Freedom. Regardless the accuracy of their arguments, do they have such contempt for people’s intelligence they don't realize this implicates them, or are they too afraid to care?
  11. Why was Sound of Freedom delayed? Explained
  12. Quién es Eduardo Verastegui, actor que se registró como aspirante independiente a la Presidencia
  13. Eduardo Verástegui on Twitter, 12 April 2023. Archived from the original.
  14. Also, your lie that homosexuality and pedophilia are related is only interesting because it’s been widely reported in the Mexican tabloids that you are gay.
  15. Actor Eduardo Verástegui falls short in Mexican presidential bid by David Agren (Jan 8, 2024) Detroit Catholic.
  16. Eduardo Verástegui and the Legion of Christ: a soap-opera miracle
  17. Producer/actor on “Sound of Freedom” Eduardo Verastegui was involved for years with pedophiles at the Catholic Legionaries of Christ and its leader Marcial Maciel who was later found to have raped more than 60 children himself.
  18. https://trumpwhitehouse.archives.gov/presidential-actions/president-donald-j-trump-announces-intent-nominate-appoint-individuals-key-administration-posts-091620/
  19. https://www.latimes.com/espanol/entretenimiento/articulo/2021-01-11/por-que-el-actor-mexicano-eduardo-verastegui-mantiene-firmemente-su-apoyo-a-trump
  20. "Star of Mel Gibson's 'Passion of the Christ' Pushes Unhinged QAnon Conspiracy at Conservative Conference". Complex. April 20, 2021. Retrieved May 6, 2021.
  21. "Tim Ballard's Controversial Operation Underground Railroad Under Criminal Investigation In Utah". Grit Daily News. October 8, 2020. Retrieved May 6, 2021.
  22. Sound of Freedom is to QAnon what The Birth of a Nation was to The Ku Klux Klan
  23. The Sound of Freedom astroturfing is getting insane
  24. 24.0 24.1 resist45ideology on Instagram
  25. A funder for 'Sound of Freedom,' a QAnon-adjacent film about child sex trafficking, has been charged with accessory to child kidnapping
  26. 26.0 26.1 The man at the center of ‘Sound of Freedom’ abruptly leaves group he founded
  27. 'Sound of Freedom' is a box office hit. But does it profit off trafficking survivors?
  28. The more I investigate the people behind “Sound of Freedom” the more I’m concerned that they created a propaganda film to cover up their own crimes.
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 "Women accusing OUR founder Tim Ballard of sexual assault speak out" by Robert Gehrke, Salt Lake Tribune, 2023 November 21
  30. "Tim Ballard’s Departure From Operation Underground Railroad Followed Sexual Misconduct Investigation" by Anna Merlan and Tim Marchman, Vice News, 2023 September 18
  31. "In rare public rebuke, LDS Church condemns Tim Ballard’s ‘morally unacceptable’ behavior" by Bryan Schott, Salt Lake Tribune, 2023 September 15
  32. "LDS Church takes down articles promoting Tim Ballard, Operation Underground Railroad" by Adam Herbets, Fox 13 Salt Lake City, 2023 September 18
  33. "Jana Riess: Allegations against Tim Ballard, inspiration behind ‘Sound of Freedom,’ explain rebuke by LDS Church" by Jana Riess, Salt Lake Tribune, 2023 September 19
  34. "LDS Church didn’t denounce me, Tim Ballard fires back" by Peggy Fletcher Stack, Salt Lake Tribune, 2023 September 18
  35. 35.0 35.1 "The Damning Details of the Lawsuit Against Sound of Freedom’s Hero" by Molly Olmstead, Slate, 2023 October 16
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 36.3 36.4 "A Private Island, Downloads From God, and the 'Couples Ruse': Inside the Dangerous World of Tim Ballard's Operation Underground Railroad" by Tim Marchman and Anna Merlan, Vice, 2023 November 16
  37. "Utah AG Sean Reyes breaks silence on allegations against Ballard" by Melanie Porter, Fox 13 Salt Lake City, 2023 September 29
  38. "A.G. Sean Reyes won’t run for reelection after questionable spending and Ballard friendship" by Robert Gehrke, Salt Lake Tribune, 2023 December 8
  39. "New court filing accuses Tim Ballard of ‘violent sexual assaults’ against his former assistant" by Robert Gehrke, Salt Lake Tribune, 2023 December 6
  40. 40.0 40.1 "Tim Ballard arranged a private club space where A.G. Sean Reyes took cocaine, new court filing claims" by Robert Gehrke, Salt Lake City Tribune, 2024 April 30, archived on 2024 April 30
  41. 41.0 41.1 "Woman depicted in ‘Sound of Freedom’ sues Tim Ballard, says her portrayal is ‘defamatory and slanderous’" by Robert Gehrke, Salt Lake Tribune, 2024 February 24
  42. 42.0 42.1 42.2 42.3 42.4 42.5 KELY JOHANA SUAREZ MOYA, anindividual; and LUZ MIRIAM MOYASOLANO,Plaintiffs, v.TIMOTHY BALLARD, an individual; KATHERINE BALLARD, an individual; OPERATION UNDERGROUNDRAILROAD, INC., a Utah Non-ProfitCorporation; ANGEL STUDIOS, INC., a Utah Corporation; SOUND OF FREEDOMMOVIE, LLC, a Delaware Limited LiabilityCompany; VAS PORTAL, LLC, a UtahLimited Liability Company; HARMONBROTHERS MARKETING, LLC, a UtahLimited Liability Company; THE SPEARFUND, a dba for a Utah Non-ProfitCorporation; ROD BARR, an individual;ALEJANDRO MONTEVERDE, anindividual; JANET RUSSON, an individual;and DOES 1 through 100, uploaded to scribd.com, February 2024
  43. Long, Katherine (July 13, 2023). "'Sound of Freedom,' this summer's surprise blockbuster, is fronted by a QAnon supporter and financed by a man who defrauded Medicare". Business Insider.