(JTA) — While “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” have hogged the headlines, an unlikelier blockbuster swept the box office this month: “Sound of Freedom,” a thriller about a federal agent rescuing children from sex traffickers.
Among those who are boosting the movie are believers in QAnon, a conspiracy theory about an elite child sex trafficking ring that, scholars and watchdogs say, has antisemitic roots. The film’s star, actor Jim Cavaziel, is a proponent of QAnon who has floated antisemitic theories in interviews promoting the film.
Despite the film’s low budget and independent distributor, “Sound of Freedom” has made over $100 million in its first few weeks, going toe-to-toe with “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” since it opened on July 4. The release date aligned with its patriotic Christian undertones, captured by the protagonist’s solemn line, “God’s children are not for sale.”
In real life, Caviezel has openly embraced QAnon. His character is based on Tim Ballard, who worked in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security before founding the anti-trafficking group Operation Underground Railroad.
Caviezel is best-known for playing Jesus Christ in Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ,” which stirred accusations of antisemitism when it was released in 2004 — a controversy compounded by Gibson’s antisemitic tirades following its release.
The QAnon movement is largely based on a conspiracy theory that a cabal of progressive elites controls world events and runs a child trafficking ring, harvesting the hormone adrenochrome from children. According to QAnon lore, former President Donald Trump sought to defeat this operation.
“Sound of Freedom” was filmed in 2018, before QAnon gained widespread momentum, and the film never mentions the movement. The story’s traffickers are common criminals, seemingly not part of a shadowy global cabal. Nonetheless, the movie has been celebrated in QAnon message boards for awakening “normies” to the conspiracy.
“The movie is for normies. Done in a way not to be revolting and push newbies away,” said one member of a message board called Great Awakening.
Mike Rothschild — who researches QAnon — said he was not surprised that the film took off with QAnon supporters, who see a global cabal of child snatchers as funded by Jewish money.
“It plays on the same fears and conspiracy theories embraced by that community — that child trafficking is rampant and massively underreported, that the traffickers have connections to high-level people, and that only a few brave patriots are willing to stand up to it,” Rothschild, author of “The Storm is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything,” told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Caviezel attended a QAnon-affiliated conference in 2021. During the event, he said that Ballard could not join because he was “saving children as we speak, because they’re pulling kids out of the darkest recesses of hell right now, in dumps and all kinds of places. The adrenochrome-ing of children.”
The adrenochrome theory has roots in a blood libel canard leveled at Jews since the Middle Ages, said Rothschild. The myth that Jews use the blood of Christian children in rituals was used to justify the torture, imprisonment and murder of Jews for centuries, even taking a role in Nazi propaganda, before it was adopted by QAnon.
Caviezel has also appeared on Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast several times, calling QAnon a “good thing” and indulging in antisemitic conspiracies while promoting the film.
In one circuitous interview with Bannon, he said, “It’s like an octopus with arms, many many arms, but you got to go after the head of the octopus. Who is it? The central banks, the [International Monetary Fund], the [European Central Bank], the Rothschild banks? We have a Rothschild pope.”
Rothschild, who is unrelated to the Jewish banking family, said these claims line up with QAnon conspiracies that posit that the Rothschild family owns all of the world’s central banks and controls the Vatican.
“These are conspiracy theories based on centuries of myths and hoaxes about the Rothschilds, which have been shared by some of the most prominent thinkers in the right-wing conspiracy world,” he said.
Ballard, who abruptly exited Operation Underground Railroad shortly after “Sound of Freedom” premiered, has also been scrutinized for his organization’s claims and practices. In 2020, a Vice News investigation found a gap between OUR’s operations and claimed successes, reporting “a pattern of image-burnishing and mythology-building, a series of exaggerations that are, in the aggregate, quite misleading.” According to a Foreign Policy report, after a 2014 OUR sting operation in the Dominican Republic, 26 rescued girls did not receive aftercare and were released in less than a week.
In Utah, the organization was investigated by the Davis County Attorney’s Office for alleged communications fraud, witness tampering and retaliation against a witness, victim or informant, according to Deseret News. The two-year investigation was closed without charges in March.
Ballard has also flirted with conspiracy theories, once entertaining the false viral notion that children were being trafficked through Wayfair, an online furniture retailer.
“I want to tell you this: children are sold that way,” he said in a 2020 video.
Regardless of these controversies, “Sound of Freedom” has found no shortage of high-profile promoters. Donald Trump shared its trailer on his Truth Social platform and hosted a screening of the film on Wednesday. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has pushed QAnon rhetoric online, both praised the movie. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said on Twitter, “Wow. Wow. Wow. GO SEE #SoundOfFreedom.”
Meanwhile, Twitter owner Elon Musk encouraged the film’s free promotion on his website, tweeting at its distributor: “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).”