Tim Ballard attends the premiere of “Sound of Freedom” on June 28, 2023 in Vineyard, Utah.
Fred Hayes | Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump this month will host a screening of “Sound of Freedom,” the surprise hit film about rescuing sex-trafficked children that has been embraced in right-wing circles, his 2024 campaign announced Thursday.
Members of Trump’s golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, and other supporters will be invited to the screening at the club on Wednesday, the Trump campaign said in a press release that highlighted the film’s mixed reviews in mainstream media outlets.
The release also touted Trump’s record on human trafficking issues from his time in the White House and noted that one of the film’s producers, Eduardo Verastegui, was a member of Trump’s Advisory Commission on Hispanic Prosperity.
The announcement comes as numerous GOP presidential contenders — most notably Trump’s biggest challenger, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — have zeroed in on children’s safety and connected it to other cultural wedge issues, such as gender fluidity, public education and LGBTQ matters, corralled under the broad category of “parents’ rights.”
DeSantis has put those issues front and center in his campaign, leaning into a fight with Disney that began after the company criticized Florida legislation that limited classroom discussion of sexual orientation. The governor has repeatedly accused Disney of promoting the “sexualization of children,” a claim that the company’s CEO Bob Iger slammed as “preposterous” in an interview Thursday with CNBC.
The screening also shows Trump once again embracing content connected to QAnon, a right-wing conspiracy theory that the film’s star, Jim Caviezel, has been accused of promoting.
The film, which reportedly cost $14.5 million to make, has seen an unexpected breakthrough at the box office: It raked in $14 million on its July 4 opening day, stealing the No. 1 spot from Disney’s “Indiana Jones and the Dial Of Destiny,” which came out five days earlier. “Sound of Freedom” has made more than $53 million as of Wednesday, Deadline reported. Only a handful of major publications, including The New York Times, have reviewed the film, according to Rotten Tomatoes.
Utah-based Angel Studios distributed “Sound of Freedom,” selling tickets through an online “pay it forward” campaign. It was mostly financed through Mexican sources, The New York Times reported.
Purportedly based on a true story, “Sound of Freedom” follows former government agent Tim Ballard as he travels to Colombia on a mission to save abducted children from sex traffickers.
The real-life Ballard is indeed a former Homeland Security agent and the founder of Operation Underground Railroad, a nonprofit that aims to conduct sting operations to stop child exploitation. The group has faced accusations of exaggerating some of its claims.
Ballard has testified before Congress about his efforts. In 2019, he was named to a presidential council on human trafficking. Ahead of the film’s release, Operation Underground Railroad put out a list of which parts of the film were true (the Colombian rescue operation and some of the character portrayals, it said) and which were false (Ballard did not actually kill someone, the group said).
Caviezel, who starred in Mel Gibson’s controversial 2004 film “The Passion of the Christ,” and Verastegui have promoted his latest role on the podcast of right-wing media figure Steve Bannon, a former top Trump advisor. Other conservative outlets have defended the film from its critics, and Ballard has pushed back on those linking it to QAnon.
That outlandish right-wing internet conspiracy revolves around the idea that Trump was secretly fighting against shadowy, powerful rings of satanic pedophiles. People displaying QAnon-themed messages or espousing those views were often seen at Trump’s political rallies.
When he was asked in 2020 about QAnon, Trump said: “I don’t know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.”