Former agent who inspired QAnon-linked thriller says critics have agendas

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Tim Ballard has had it with being linked to QAnon conspiracies.

The former US Department of Homeland Security agent, who estimates he has gone on “several dozen” missions to rescue sex-trafficked children since founding Operation Underground Railroad a decade ago, has become the public face of the surprise American box office hit Sound of Freedom.

Ballard is played by Jim Caviezel from The Passion of the Christ in a dark low-budget thriller that has taken a stunning $US178 million – more than the latest Indiana Jones and Mission: Impossible movies – since faith-based distributor Angel Studios released it on Independence Day.

Jim Caviezel plays former US government agent Tim Ballard in Sound of Freedom.Credit: Angel Studios

While it dramatises a mission to rescue sex-trafficked children in Colombia without taking sides politically, the movie has been championed by the far right in America’s fractious culture wars.

Its supporters have included Steve Bannon, MyPillow proprietor Mike Lindell, QAnon followers online, Mel Gibson, who is one of the executive producers, and former president Donald Trump, who held a private screening at his Bedminster golf club a month ago.

That leaves Ballard facing awkward questions, ahead of the movie’s opening in Australian cinemas this week, like whether he believes in the QAnon conspiracy that liberal elites run paedophilia rings.

Tim Ballard, who is played by Jim Caviezel in Sound of Freedom, attends the premiere in Utah in June.Credit: Fred Hayes/Getty Images for Angel Studios

“That gets into some conspiracy theories that I’m not a part of, even though I’ve been accused of being a part of this QAnon movement,” Ballard says on a patchy Zoom call after a premiere in Buenos Aires. “I’ve disavowed it so many times. But I will say that the sex addiction that brings the demand for child sex is everywhere.

“It’s on every level of every economic order, every type of person. Professionals, educators, law enforcement and politicians. Jeffrey Epstein is an example. So I don’t think it’s more prominent in elite circles. I think it’s really just everywhere.”

Ballard, who co-chaired a council established to guide federal anti-trafficking policymaking during the Trump presidency, describes human trafficking as a $US150 billion a year business around the world.

He claims his teams have rescued more than 7000 women and children and assisted in the arrest of 5000 paedophiles and traffickers. But in the storm of controversy that has surrounded Sound of Freedom, Ballard has been accused of self-mythologising and embellishing his exploits.

An attorney who is an authority on anti-trafficking, Erin Allbright, has described the movie as being so “divorced from reality” about how trafficking works that it could harm victims.

Ballard puts criticisms of the movie down to people with agendas and says its success reflects a rising concern about the sexualisation of children.

“There’s a movement, for example, to change the name paedophile to ‘minor-attracted person’ in order to normalise all this,” he says. “We have a crisis at our border with 85,000 unaccompanied minors, thousands of them children under five years old, who have shown up and been released to whoever picks them up.

“And that’s into the country that’s [the biggest] consumer of child exploitation material in the world …The people that are pushing those agendas are doing all they can to stop Sound of Freedom and making false accusations. It’s like the battle lines have been drawn almost around this film about those who will stand up for children and those who are not going to.”

The movie follows Tim Ballard as he rescues sex-trafficked children in Colombia.Credit: Angel Studios

Director Alejandro Monteverde has also distanced the movie from QAnon, telling The Los Angeles Times that becoming the rallying cry for conspiracy believers has been heartbreaking, hurtful and “discredits the purity of the work”.

Ballard says they are already discussing a sequel based on another mission that rescued 28 children from a trafficking ring in Haiti.

He and his wife, who live in Salt Lake City, adopted two of them and also have seven biological children.

The movie has Caviziel declaring that he is undertaking the risky undercover mission because “God’s children are not for sale”.

“The faith part is very, very important to me,” Ballard says. “I know that the director didn’t intend for [it] to be labelled a Christian film or a religious film but we definitely see those references laced throughout.”

Jim Caviezel plays real-life Homeland Security agent Tim Ballard in Sound of Freedom.Credit: Angel Studios

Adding to the controversy around the movie is that Caviezel spoke at a QAnon conference in Las Vegas in late 2021, referring to the fight against liberal values and using the phrase “the storm is upon us” that is a slogan among believers.

“Jim is a very good friend,” Ballard says. “Jim went to a very dark place to learn about human trafficking to prepare for this role. He really dug deep [but] I didn’t know he spoke at a QAnon conference.”

Ballard says it was encouraging that Trump had hosted a screening. He has reached out to president Biden and other presidential candidates including Robert F. Kennedy Jr to hold more of them.

“Congress also hosted a screening at the US Capitol,” he says. “These are people that have the ability to deploy resources. If Donald Trump becomes the president, I’m glad that he’s aware of human trafficking.”

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