The “Sound of Freedom” film packing out theaters right now is based on an incredible true story that portrays Tim Ballard’s journey from undercover federal agent to anti-child trafficking activist.
I saw the movie in a crowded theater on a Monday night in Findlay, Ohio. I was moved to tears, on the edge of my seat, and by the ending credits, I wanted to know what I could do to help end human trafficking.
“God’s children are not for sale.” That line delivered by Jim Caviezel, the “Passion of the Christ” actor who plays Ballard, stuck with me and the story of a brother and sister sold into sex trafficking was a gripping one to witness on the big screen.
The independent Eduardo Verástegui-produced film has garnered $45 million in its first seven days since being released.
So how much of it was true? Where did Angel Studios sprinkle Hollywood into the film shelved by Disney in 2018?
WATCH THE PREVIEW BELOW:
WARNING: SPOILERS CONTAINED BELOW
First, let’s talk about the true parts of the movie, then we’ll hit the fictitious parts via Tim Ballard, Angel Studios, and Operation Underground Railroad.
Tim Ballard was an undercover agent for the government: TRUE
Former CIA Agent Tim Ballard spent more than 11 years of his career, from 2002 to 2013, as a special agent for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, focusing on drug smuggling, money laundering, arms smuggling, and human trafficking. The majority of that time, Ballard investigated crimes against children including cases dealing with sex trafficking, child sexual tourism, and child pornography. He was a member of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. (via LinkedIn)
“The first few years it was mostly just end-user, collector, cases of people who are possessing, distributing child exploitation material, and always wondering, ‘Where are the kids?’ I see these videos, it breaks my heart, I gotta describe them. There’s a scene in the movie that breaks my heart where Jim is crying as he’s having to describe these horrific sex scenes of children, and when I say children, I mean average age, seven, six, five,” Ballard told The Daily Signal.
When the laws changed in 2006, Ballard embarked on his first undercover rescue mission in Cartagena, Columbia, posing as a sex tourist to infiltrate a child sex trafficking ring, which ultimately resulted in multiple children being rescued and several traffickers arrested — but it was a frustrating journey for Ballard, according to Angel Studios.
Tim quit his job to rescue children: TRUE
Ballard was working on two different cases in 2012 – one in Columbia, which is depicted in the film, and another in Haiti – when it all reportedly came to a head.
“I was told, ‘Come home,’ on both of them,” Ballard said. “They were both major cases, a significant hit against human traffickers would have taken place. … There I am, thinking, ‘They’re asking me to come home once again, and I’m not gonna do it. I’m gonna stay, and that means I have to quit my job.”
It was in 2013 that he left his government position and founded Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), which employs former law enforcement and military personnel to combat sex trafficking by working with law enforcement agencies worldwide to conduct rescue missions, gather evidence, and support the prosecution of traffickers.
O.U.R. has reportedly been involved in more than 4,000 operations with 6,500 arrests and over 6,000 women and children rescued to date.
Tim was inspired by a missing child victim’s father: TRUE
Although the movie depicts the one who inspired Tim as the father of the brother and sister, the real-life story happened in Haiti. Guesno Mardy, who has a missing son named Gardy, had a conversation with Tim that was depicted in the movie.
I asked him, “What’s being done to find your son?” His answer came as a question I wasn’t expecting…I call it the “cruel question”.
“Do you have children?” he said.
“Yes I do,” I replied.
He continued, “Can you imagine going to bed at night knowing that one of your children’s beds is empty? And not knowing where that child is?”via O.U.R.
Ballard told him, “I will never stop, I promise, I will never stop until we find your son.” Tim wears a bracelet with his name on it and O.U.R. stated its mission is the relentless search for children like Gardy.
Tim’s wife approved him quitting his job: TRUE
Tim said his wife, Katherine Ballard, supported him but their phone call didn’t go quite like it was depicted in the film.
“I called my wife, hoping, hoping she’ll say, ‘Get your butt home, are you kidding me? We got six kids to feed.’ And I want her to say [that], because I was being a coward, but I knew it was the right thing, and she didn’t, she didn’t, she didn’t read my script, and she said, ‘Of course you’re gonna stay,’ and I said, ‘Are you kidding me?'” he told The Daily Signal.
At the time, the Ballards had six children. Today, they have nine, including two kids they adopted whom Ballard rescued from traffickers in Haiti.
“In the film, you see [Mira Sorvino’s character] say to me on the phone, ‘You quit your job and rescue those kids.’ What [my wife] really said to me, because they didn’t want to make me look like the coward that I was, because I was like, ‘I’m coming home. I’m not gonna do this. I’m not gonna be part of this,’ and she said to me, very sternly, ‘I will not let you jeopardize my salvation by not doing this.’ And it breaks my heart because not only is she losing our income, but she possibly, there’s a very good chance, maybe 50-50, she’s gonna lose me.”
The boy “Teddy” was a real victim of sex trafficking: TRUE
The little boy known as “Teddy” represents a real boy Tim rescued. True to the story, the little boy’s sister had given him the necklace before they were separated and the boy gave the dog-tag style necklace to Ballard.
This happened while Tim was still an HSI Special Agent, and the necklace did have “Timoteo” written on it with a Scripture reference from 1 Timothy 6:11 and the words “Man of God” inscribed on it. It wasn’t until Tim took it home to show to his family that his son pointed out his name was on it.
“To me, call it luck, chance, coincidence, God, whatever you want to call it, it was a message,” Tim said. “That necklace symbolized a calling now to me. It meant so much and I decided, then and there, that this is it, this is what I’m called to do, this is what I’ll do for the rest of my life.”
Although the necklace was given back to the kids in the film, Tim said he still has the necklace and wears it to this day.
The first trafficked child Tim met was at the border: TRUE
Tim Ballard was at the arrest and rescue of the five-year-old boy featured in the film. He said it was his first time seeing a child victim of sex trafficking face to face. Earl Buchanan was stopped on July 3, 2006 and arrested at the Calexico West Port of Entry on the Southern border. The Los Angeles Times reports that Buchanan “may have molested 10 minors, some as young as 2, according to federal agents.
“I remember the night I got the call,” Ballard said. “We showed up there and there was this little boy. It was the first time, I’d been working child crimes for quite some time, this was the first time ever that I actually saw a real child, and not only any child but a child that I had seen before in a video — in a child rape video and the video’s actually showing this man, this horrible human being, his name is Earl Buchanan, he’s in jail now for the rest of his life I hope. It shows him sexually assaulting this child. The video went on for like 20-30 minutes. It was horrifying and then there’s the kid. It’s kind of what kicks off the adventure.”
The scene was filmed at the same location where it took place in real life where Tim got the necklace. Ballard spent at least 10 years working at the border as a DHS special agent.
“When they filmed this I never knew that the Southern border was going to be so political and controversial. It’s shouldn’t be controversial…You need to control the flow of people…I’m thinking of children, that little boy you’re going to see in this movie. Why was he rescued? Because of the wall…It forces people like Earl Buchanan to bring his victims through a place where trained people are watching, looking for woman and children who are being trafficked.”
A pedophile signed his book to Tim before being arrested: TRUE
Ballard said the man identified as Ernst Oshinsky is based on a real case and the arrest in a coffee shop where he signed his book for him actually happened.
“It’s the true story of a guy in the film they call Oshinsky. He was one of the more prolific collectors of child exploitation material that I’ve ever seen. He had over 2 million pieces of that material, and it was an interesting case because he was very intellectual. He had written a lot about pedophilia, justifying it, making even legal arguments for it. He had written a book,” Ballard said. “I had read that book before we took him down.”
The film doesn’t give the backstory of his arrest, but Ballard said he wouldn’t talk during the interrogation until he tried something new.
“I decided to try something crazy that I had never tried before because I had read so much of his material and I believed that he believed that men are naturally attracted to children…so I told my partner to walk away from the table…it took me like 45 minutes and I got him to confess,” Ballard said.
The island raid was real: TRUE
Ballard participated in an international undercover law enforcement operation in 2014 that led to the arrest of 12 sex traffickers and the rescue of 55 sex trafficking victims, all minors, according to ICE. It took place on Colombia’s Caribbean Islas de Rosario islands.
The rescued victims are all Colombian minors, some as young as 11 years old. They are in the care of Bienestar Familiar (Colombia’s Child Protective Services). Eighty-five percent of those rescued were females. Some of the victims were allegedly drugged with ecstasy and cocaine.
During the takedown, one 11-year-old girl broke down in tears thanking the officials who rescued her. She was allegedly sold for $1,000 in U.S. currency since she was a virgin.
Breaking Chains and Underground Railroad assisted with the case that also involved the Columbian Navy and Coast Guard.
Ballard said the operation, known as Operation Triple Take, was actually much bigger than what was shown on the big screen, including the rescue of 123 trafficking victims, 55 of whom were minors: “The film only gets into a piece of it…The movie didn’t have time to get into it.”
WATCH THE CBS NEWS REPORT BELOW:
The traffickers never got their money before the raid happened, CBS News reports.
Of the five traffickers depicted in the film, Ballard explained: “This whole group of traffickers got together, and they came to us wanting not just to supply us children for a party, but they wanted a business partnership. They wanted us to invest in property so they could build a child sex hotel.”
The beauty queen recruiter is real: TRUE
Giselle, the woman who recruited the siblings at the beginning of the film was loosely based on real-life model turned sex trafficker Kelly Johana Suarez, who aspired to be like Naomi Campbell and desribed herself as a good Christian woman.
Known as “Miss Cartagena,” she was one of the five traffickers arrested during the island raid. True to what was depicted in the film, Ballard said children would be lured in by traffickers pretending to have modeling agencies. There are still modeling photos of Suarez on a beauty pageant website.
Fuego was a real trafficker: TRUE
Fuego is based on the character Ballard directly negotiated with and was arrested during the island raid. Ballard approached Fuego and he had 12 minors at the time, which was one of the reasons they pushed for the business partnership with other traffickers. Ballard said at the island raid arrest that he switched hats with Fuego because he wanted to keep his Che Guevara hat as a reminder. Fuego brazenly declared he wore the Marxist revolutionary-style hat “because I’m the revolutionary in selling girls.”
Vampiro, who aided Tim, is based on a real person: TRUE
Vampiro, also known as “Batman,” is based on a real man, but his backstory is a little different than what was shared in the movie.
According to O.U.R., the real-life Batman has never been in prison and he was not on the island during the raid. Instead he was leading another mission that day in Medelin, Columbia as part of Operation Triple Take.
He started in investment banking and got into international money laundering with the cartels before his life boiled down to three things for 15 years of his life: “money, girls, and partying.” At one point, he started working with an orphanage in Mexico that was owned by an American couple and he met a young girl around the age of 10 who told him that her mom prostituted her out for drugs. “I couldn’t conceive of that. I didn’t know that that existed…that’s when God spoke to me. He’s like, ‘You’re gonna rescue these kids.'”
Tim found ‘the one’ he was looking for: FALSE
Tim’s relentless pursuit of “the one” child, the little girl Rocio shown in the opening scene and rescued in the final one is inspirational, but the real-life story of Rocio is loosely based on a child that Tim and O.U.R., are still searching for. His name is Gardy, a kidnapped Haitian boy, and his father moved Tim to make Haiti his focus after founding O.U.R. in 2013.
In the initial undercover operation to find Gardy, Tim and his team rescued 28 kids, two siblings whom the Ballards ended up adopting. Gardy’s father adopted eight of the kids because they didn’t have a home to go to and he said he would treat them like his son who is still missing to this day. You can read Gardy’s story here on O.U.R.’s website.
Tim killed someone on a solo jungle mission: FALSE
Near the conclusion of the movie, Jim Caviezel’s character kills a man in order to rescue a child while posing as a U.N. doctor. This never happened in real life. In addressing this scene, Operation Underground Railroad’s website clarifies, “Tim Ballard has never killed anyone, contrary to what is depicted in the film.” The organization emphasizes that they do not act as a vigilante group. Instead, they work with governments and local authorities, contributing intel, funds, equipment and undercover operatives.”
Ballard said it is a real place that he doesn’t want to disclose because there are operations there, but admitted the film made him look “way more badass than I am.”
At one point, several years after Operation Triple Take, Tim led a team of O.U.R. operators, pretending to be doctors, into a jungle on the border of the Dominican Republic and Haiti to look for Gardy. They were unable to find him, but they did give medical care to a number of ailing children.
‘Sound of Freedom’ is a QAnon conspiracy film: FALSE
The film is based on true events and has nothing to do with QAnon or a conspiracy, despite left-wing media outlets trying to say otherwise.
A Bloomberg op-ed titled, “QAnon and ‘Sound of Freedom’ Both Rely on Tired Hollywood Tropes,” by Noah Berlatsky connects the film to the “pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy cult.” The Washington Post ran the piece. The UK-based The Guardian called the film a “QAnon-adjacent thriller seducing America” and Jezebel called it “an Anti-Trafficking Fantasy Fit for QAnon.” Rolling Stone called it a “Superhero Movie for Dads With Brainworms.” Journalist Mike Rothschild told CNN the movie is “looking at QAnon concepts of these child trafficking rings.”
But the mainstream media covered the 2014 island raid and has profiled Ballard on several occasions. And, as Berlatsky admits the movie “isn’t related to QAnon” nor does it have QAnon “talking points.”
Fast facts about the film:
Tim wanted Jim Caviezel to play him in the movie:
“I don’t trust Hollywood,” said Ballard, “but I know one thing about Jim Caviezel. One, he’s a great actor. My favorite movie of all time was The Count of Monte Cristo. And I know he loves Jesus, and that is important to me, someone who loves the Lord. I can at least trust in that.”
Jim joined Tim on several missions to prepare for the role:
“I go and literally sit in on these missions,” Caviezel told the National Catholic Register, “and I’m watching him and his analysis of what he sees. And it has to be done very methodically. And I’m trying to find out who he is and what I am and how we’re similar.”
Glenn Beck helped fund Tim’s early O.U.R. operations.
“Glenn Beck, bless his heart, raised the money for us so that we could even do the operations. I had no money to do it,” Ballard said Beck’s role was in the original script but taken out for theatrical release.
The U.S. is the No. 1 consumer of child exploitation material
The United States is in the top three for countries where traffickers take children.
In 2021, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children reported more than 17,200 cases of child sex trafficking from all 50 states.