Trump Promotes ‘Sound of Freedom,’ a Conservative Hit About Child Predators

Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina called it an “amazing, gut-wrenching, emotional movie.”

“Wow. Wow. Wow,” Senator Ted Cruz of Texas wrote of the film, urging supporters to see it.

And on Wednesday, former President Donald J. Trump is set to host a screening of the movie, “Sound of Freedom,” at his private club in New Jersey, the most striking sign yet of how the unlikely box-office hit has captured the imagination of American conservatives.

The movie, released July 4, was the second most-watched film in North America last weekend, behind “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning,” and has made $90.7 million as of Monday, according to data from Comscore.

Based on real-life events, the movie stars Jim Caviezel as Tim Ballard, a former federal agent who sought to rescue South American children from sex traffickers. Its themes have resonated with a wide range of conservatives, including mainstream Republicans who have focused heavily on education and other children’s issues, evangelicals who have responded to the movie’s religious overtones, and far-right QAnon believers who have for years spread alarmist fears of child endangerment.

The plot never directly invokes QAnon, the wide-ranging, pro-Trump conspiracy theory that falsely accuses leading Democrats of orchestrating a pedophilia ring, but the movement’s supporters have embraced the film.

And Mr. Caviezel himself has promoted baseless QAnon theories. Appearing on Stephen Bannon’s podcast before the movie’s release, he commented that “there is a big storm coming,” a QAnon slogan. In 2021, he spoke at a QAnon convention, where he repeated false claims about adrenochrome, a chemical that some QAnon believers claim is harvested from children.

A spokesman for Angel Studios, the company that produced the film, did not respond to a request for comment.

Efforts to reach Mr. Caviezel were unsuccessful, but on Wednesday, he responded to critical coverage of the movie. Appearing on “The Benny Show,” a conservative podcast, he repeated a quotation from the movie that refers to a Bible verse: “Better a millstone be hung around their necks that they be cast into the sea that they should ever hurt one of these little ones,” he said.

Both Mr. Caviezel and Mr. Ballard were expected to attend the screening on Wednesday at Mr. Trump’s club.

Experts on misinformation expressed misgivings about the movie’s message.

“I do think that human trafficking is real and child trafficking is real and these are real problems,” said Kathryn Olmsted, a professor of history at the University of California, Davis, who has studied the role of conspiracy theories in American politics. “It’s just that this renewed, highly politicized focus on it is emblematic of increasing political polarization in our society.”

The man at the center of “Sound of Freedom,” Mr. Ballard, is a former Department of Homeland Security agent who founded an anti-trafficking group and was appointed by Mr. Trump to a federal advisory panel on human trafficking. He has been accused of exaggerating his exploits.

The movie depicts Mr. Ballard setting out to rescue two siblings who were sold by sex traffickers; he ultimately saves dozens of children.

“God’s children are not for sale,” Mr. Caviezel says in the movie, when asked by another character why he sought to do this work.

Daniela Peterka-Benton, the academic director for the Global Center of Human Trafficking at Montclair State University, said the movie’s focus on saviors rather than victims resulted in an incomplete, glamorized depiction of human trafficking. Most children, she said, are not “snatched away” but are trafficked by people they know.

“It does a disservice to the victims; it does a disservice to people really fighting to end human trafficking and to provide services to survivors,” she said. “I mean, there’s so much more to it than just the rescue.”

Nevertheless, politicians, commentators and Hollywood celebrities have praised the film.

Ivanka Trump, Mr. Trump’s daughter, who has largely stayed out of politics since the 2020 election, promoted the film in June, writing on Twitter that it “sheds light on the harrowing reality” of human trafficking, “awakening our collective conscience and inspiring us to take action for those trapped in its dark web.”

Republicans — many of whom were far less worried about the Trump administration’s separation of migrant children from their parents — have also seized on the issue.

Last week, Senate Republicans’ official Twitter account shared a video that pointed to New York Times reporting about migrant children forced to work dangerous jobs across the United States. The post misleadingly accused President Biden of having “created the largest child trafficking ring in U.S. history.”

In liberal Manhattan, “Sound of Freedom” viewers at several theaters said they had come not for the politics, but because they wanted to see a good thriller based on what they believed to be a true story.

“I came because I believe that there’s child trafficking going on and there’s just not enough light being shed on it,” said Malaika Villamizar, 19, who lives in Manhattan.

She was surprised to hear, however, that the movie had been promoted by Mr. Trump and other Republican politicians. She said she had heard about the film on TikTok.

Anjali Huynh covers politics for The Times. More about Anjali Huynh

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