Why the child sex trafficking film 'Sound of Freedom' is getting such conflicting reactions

People who laud the film are accused of being QAnon quacks, and those who criticize it are accused of being evil pedophiles. Here's how we got to this ridiculous point.

Sound of freedom trailer screenshot

"Sound of Freedom" has made more than $90 million at the box office.

The Angel Studios film "Sound of Freedom," released over the 4th of July weekend, has been a somewhat surprise box office hit, earning more than $90 million so far and earning a top spot at the box office.

If you follow conservative media, you may have gotten the impression that this film is an incredibly important, eye-opening look into the skeevy world of child sex trafficking and a hero who takes on the bad guys who snatch and enslave children into the sex trade.

If you follow more liberal media, you may have gotten the impression that this film is QAnon propaganda, with a starring actor who spews conspiracy theories about elites trafficking children in order to harvest their blood for youth-maintaining rituals and all manner of unspeakable debauchery.

So how did we get to a place where people who criticize this film are accused of being evil leftist pedophiles, and people who laud it are accused of being QAnon quacks?

As with most things poisoned by conspiracy theories and rank partisanship, the story is a bit muddled. I don't claim to have all of the answers, but I've interviewed Tim Ballard (the founder of Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), the subject of the film and the driving force behind it), I've written about other organizations combatting child sex trafficking and I've done my best to debunk the QAnonsense that has unfortunately become entangled with this very real issue. So I'm familiar with the road that brought us here.

"Sound of Freedom" was still in production when I interviewed Ballard in 2018. At the time, he seemed like a full-blown superhero in my eyes, utilizing his Department of Homeland Security training and expertise to root out the traffickers who buy and sell children for sex—the worst of the worst things humans do to one another. I spent an hour talking with him and cried after I got off the phone. Child sex trafficking is horrific, it's a real issue, the industry is bigger and more lucrative than most people might imagine and in order to combat it, someone has to be willing to go into the belly of the beast.

I learned a lot talking with Ballard, but notably missing from our conversation was anything QAnon-related. He mentioned nothing about pizza parlors or Hillary Clinton eating babies (remember Pizzagate?), nothing about Hollywood actors secretly being arrested for some global sex trafficking ring run by elites, nothing about adrenochrome or any of the other QAnon claims that were already well underway in 2018. The industry he talked about was similar to what other anti-trafficking organizations I've spoken to have described.

But in the years since I spoke to Ballard, I've been dismayed to see him and OUR tacitly courting of QAnoners who have completely wrong ideas about what child sex trafficking looks like. I've watched partisan politics play a bigger and bigger role in Ballard's anti-trafficking messaging (and fundraising) and have been baffled by his and OUR's seeming refusal to denounce any specific QAnon kookery—despite the comment sections of their social media accounts being filled with the stuff.

When fake claims that children were being trafficked through the Wayfair website by people ordering furniture with specific girls' names started circulating, I was hoping Ballard would set the record straight. Instead, he tweeted, "With or without Wayfair, child trafficking is real and happening!!!" totally leaving the door open for people who believed the story, despite it being unequivocally false. He also said, "Children are sold that way...no question about it, children are sold through social media and on websites," but that statement could easily be interpreted as him saying that kids are sold through major online retailers' storefronts rather than simply through online channels. That's false and misleading and plays right into the hands of QAnoners.

All I've ever seen from Ballard and OUR are vague statements like, "We don't support conspiracy theories," which is meaningless, because QAnon folks don't see themselves as conspiracy theorists. When the big #SaveTheChildren push came about in 2020, with its skewed statistics and total misrepresentation of the scope and reality of child sex trafficking, neither Ballard nor OUR corrected the widespread misinformation QAnon followers pushed. Instead, they saw the attention as an opportunity.

“Some of these theories have allowed people to open their eyes,” Ballard told the New York Times. “So now it’s our job to flood the space with real information so the facts can be shared.”

That approach belies a naive-at-best and disingenuous-at-worst understanding of how QAnon-addled minds operate. No matter how much "real information" and "facts" OUR and Ballard share, by not directly correcting and denouncing outlandish claims about child sex trafficking, they allow conspiracy theorists to conflate the real with the fake. The comments under every OUR post reveals how deep and twisted the misinformation goes, but from what I've seen, OUR has allowed those comments go unchallenged.

It may be worth noting that, in 2020, donations to OUR more than doubled, from $22 million to $47.5 million.

The way Ballard and OUR have neglected to set the record straight with their QAnon following has directly led to the extreme reactions to "Sound of Freedom." And frankly, it was totally predictable.

Of course, it doesn't help that the lead actor in the film, Jim Caveizel, appears to have fallen head-first into QAnon quackery himself and that Ballard has fully embraced the right-wing media machine that makes every issue into a partisan, politicized fight between good and evil. I've been watching with interest as Mira Sorvino—who plays the lead character's wife in the film and who has served as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Global Fight against Human Trafficking since 2009—has done damage control, explicitly denouncing QAnon and trying desperately to explain that child trafficking is not a political issue.

"Sound of Freedom" is a fictionalized film based on some real events. However, the ethical nature of the raids OUR has been involved in is certainly up for debate, and OUR's tactics and credibility have been called into question multiple times. Certainly, the Rambo-style rescue narrative with the good guys busting in on the bad guys and saving the children can be, and has been, criticized for both sensationalism and shifting the focus away from victims and their stories.

At the end of the day, "Sound of Freedom" is not a QAnon film. It's also not the best depiction of child sex trafficking, according to many who work in the anti-trafficking field. The vast majority of child trafficking victims are not lured by strangers, but rather trafficked by people they know and trust, such as a family member, friend or romantic partner. And as it's a fictionalized account, there are parts of the film that aren't even true to the real story it's depicting (which OUR clarifies on its website).

People sure do love a dramatic hero story, though

For an excellent, in-depth rundown of the film and its various issues, read this Slate article by Molly Olmstead. And if you are interested in learning more about child sex trafficking and organizations combatting it without the controversy, check out:

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

The Polaris Project

Love 146

The Exodus Road

PACT (Protect All Children from Trafficking)


International Justice Mission


4 simple hacks to help you meet your healthy eating goals

Trying to eat healthier? Try these 4 totally doable tricks.

Photo by Anna Pelzer on Unsplash

Most of us want to eat healthier but need some help to make it happen.


When it comes to choosing what to eat, we live in a uniquely challenging era. Never before have humans known more about nutrition and how to eat for optimal health, and yet we’ve never been more surrounded by distractions and temptations that derail us from making healthy choices.

Some people might be able to decide “I’m going to eat healthier!” and do so without any problem, but those folks are unicorns. Most of us know what we should do, but need a little help making it happen—like some simple hacks, tips and tricks for avoiding pitfalls on the road to healthier eating.

While recognizing that what works for one person may not work for another, here are some helpful habits and approaches that might help you move closer to your healthy eating goals.

man pulling chip out of a chip bagOur mouths loves chips. Our bodies not so much.Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

Goal: Snack on less junk food

Tip: Focus your willpower on the grocery store, not your home

Willpower is a limited commodity for most of us, and it is no match for a bag of potato chips sitting on top of the fridge. It’s just a fact. Channeling your willpower at the grocery store can save you from having to fight that battle at home. If you don’t bring chips into your house in the first place, you’ll find it a lot easier to reach for something healthier.

The key to successful shopping trips is to always go to the store with a specific list and a full stomach—you’ll feel much less tempted to buy the junky snack foods if you’re already satiated. Also, finding healthier alternatives that will still satisfy your cravings for salty or crunchy, or fatty foods helps. Sugar snap peas have a surprisingly satisfying crunch, apples and nut butter hit that sweet-and-salty craving, etc.

slice of cakeYou can eat well without giving up sweets completely.Photo by Caitlyn de Wild on Unsplash

Goal: Eat less sugar

Tip: Instead of “deprive,” think “delay” or “decrease and delight”

Sugar is a tricky one. Some people find it easier to cut out added sugars altogether, but that can create an all-or-nothing mindset that all too often results in “all.” Eating more whole foods and less processed foods can help us cut out a lot of ancillary sugar, but we still live in a world with birthday cakes and dessert courses.

One approach to dessert temptation is to delay instead of deprive. Tell yourself you can have any sweet you want…tomorrow. This mental trick flips the “I’ll just indulge today and start eating healthier tomorrow” idea on its head. It’s a lot easier to resist something you know you can have tomorrow than to say no to something you think you’ll never get to have again.

Another approach when you really want to enjoy a dessert at that moment is to decrease the amount and really truly savor it. Eat each bite slowly, delighting in the full taste and satisfaction of it. As soon as that delight starts to diminish, even a little, stop eating. You’ve gotten what you wanted out of it. You don’t have to finish it. (After all, you can always have more tomorrow!)

colorful fresh food on a plateA naturally colorful meal is a healthy meal.Photo by Anna Pelzer on Unsplash

Goal: Eat healthier meals

Tip: Focus on fresh foods and plan meals ahead of time

Meal planning is easier than ever before. The internet is filled with countless tools—everything from recipes to shopping lists to meal planning apps—and it’s as awesome as it is overwhelming.

Planning ahead takes the guesswork and decision fatigue out of cooking, preventing the inevitable “Let’s just order a pizza.” You can have a repeating 3-week or 4-week menu of your favorite meals so you never have to think about what you’re going to eat, or you can meal plan once a week to try new recipes and keep things fresh.

It might help to designate one day a week to “shop and chop”—getting and prepping the ingredients for the week’s meals so they’re ready to go in your fridge or freezer.

woman holding blueberries in her handsOrganic foods are better for the Earth and for us.Photo by andrew welch on Unsplash

Goal: Eat more organic/humanely raised food

Tip: Utilize the “dirty dozen” and “clean 15” lists to prioritize

Many people choose organic because they want to avoid pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals. Organic food is also better for the planet, and according to the Mayo Clinic, studies have shown that organic produce is higher in certain nutrients.

Most people don’t buy everything organic, but there are some foods that should take priority over others. Each year, researchers from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyze thousands of samples of dozens of fruits and vegetables. From this data, they create a list of the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” fruits and vegetables, indicating what produce has the most and least pesticide residue. These lists give people a good place to start focusing their transition to more organic foods.

To make organic eating even simpler, you can shop O Organics® at your local Albertsons or Safeway stores. The O Organics brand offers a wide range of affordable USDA-certified organic products in every aisle. If you’re focusing on fresh foods, O Organics produce is always grown without synthetic pesticides, is farmed to conserve biodiversity, and is always non-GMO. All animal-based O Organics products are certified humane as well. Even switching part of your grocery list to organic can make a positive impact on the planet and the people you feed.

Healthy eating habits don’t have to be all or nothing, and they don’t have to be complicated. A few simple mindset changes at home and habit changes at the grocery store can make a big difference.

Around 1 a.m. on April 24, semi-truck drivers in the Oak Park area of Michigan received a distress call from area police: An unidentified man was standing on the edge of a local bridge, apparently ready to jump onto the freeway below.

Those drivers then did something amazing. They raced to the scene to help — and lined up their trucks under the bridge, providing a relatively safe landing space should the man jump.

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All images provided by Prudential Emerging Visionaries

Collins after being selected by Prudential Emerging Visionaries


A changemaker is anyone who takes creative action to solve an ongoing problem—be it in one’s own community or throughout the world.

And when it comes to creating positive change, enthusiasm and a fresh perspective can hold just as much power as years of experience. That’s why, every year, Prudential Emerging Visionaries celebrates young people for their innovative solutions to financial and societal challenges in their communities.

This national program awards 25 young leaders (ages 14-18) up to $15,000 to devote to their passion projects. Additionally, winners receive a trip to Prudential’s headquarters in Newark, New Jersey, where they receive coaching, skills development, and networking opportunities with mentors to help take their innovative solutions to the next level.

For 18-year-old Sydnie Collins, one of the 2023 winners, this meant being able to take her podcast, “Perfect Timing,” to the next level.

Since 2020, the Maryland-based teen has provided a safe platform that promotes youth positivity by giving young people the space to celebrate their achievements and combat mental health stigmas. The idea came during the height of Covid-19, when Collins recalled social media “becoming a dark space flooded with news,” which greatly affected her own anxiety and depression.

Knowing that she couldn’t be the only one feeling this way, “Perfect Timing” seemed like a valuable way to give back to her community. Over the course of 109 episodes, Collins has interviewed a wide range of guests—from other young influencers to celebrities, from innovators to nonprofit leaders—all to remind Gen Z that “their dreams are tangible.”

That mission statement has since evolved beyond creating inspiring content and has expanded to hosting events and speaking publicly at summits and workshops. One of Collins’ favorite moments so far has been raising $7,000 to take 200 underserved girls to see “The Little Mermaid” on its opening weekend, to “let them know they are enough” and that there’s an “older sister” in their corner.

Of course, as with most new projects, funding for “Perfect Timing” has come entirely out of Collins’ pocket. Thankfully, the funding she earned from being selected as a Prudential Emerging Visionary is going toward upgraded recording equipment, the support of expert producers, and skill-building classes to help her become a better host and public speaker. She’ll even be able to lease an office space that allows for a live audience.

Plus, after meeting with the 24 other Prudential Emerging Visionaries and her Prudential employee coach, who is helping her develop specific action steps to connect with her target audience, Collins has more confidence in a “grander path” for her work.

“I learned that my network could extend to multiple spaces beyond my realm of podcasting and journalism when industry leaders are willing to share their expertise, time, and financial support,” she told Upworthy. “It only takes one person to change, and two people to expand that change.”

Prudential Emerging Visionaries is currently seeking applicants for 2024. Winners may receive up to $15,000 in awards and an all-expenses-paid trip to Prudential’s headquarters with a parent or guardian, as well as ongoing coaching and skills development to grow their projects.

If you or someone you know between the ages of 14 -18 not only displays a bold vision for the future but is taking action to bring that vision to life, click here to learn more. Applications are due by Nov. 2, 2023.

Angelina Jordan blew everyone away with her version of 'Bohemian Rhapsody."

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Jordan came to "AGT: The Champions" in 2020 as the winner of Norway's Got Talent, which she won in 2014 at the mere age of 7 with her impressive ability to seemingly channel Billie Holiday. For the 2020 audition, she sang Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," but a version that no one had ever heard before.

With just her Amy Winehouse-ish voice, a guitar and a piano, Jordan brought the fan-favorite Queen anthem down to a smooth, melancholy ballad that's simply riveting to listen to.

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3,700-year-old Babylonian stone tablet gets translated, changes history

They were doing trigonometry 1500 years before the Greeks.

via UNSW

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David Shane creates videos in which he approaches couples in public and asks them to share three things they love about each other, resulting in some major #couplegoals moments. But one "couple" he approached had a surprising answer to that question, one that moved both them and the people watching the video afterward to tears.

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Man teaches disability awareness by using sign language to communicate with deaf pitbull

Christopher Hannah and Cole the Deaf Dog have inspired children and veterans for over 6 years.

Chris Hannah and Cole entertain a group of kids.

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Chris, with the help of his deaf nephew, taught the dog sign language, and they began doing presentations in schools, teaching kids that it’s okay to be different and helping them to be courageous and kind. They also help them reflect on their feelings of “brokenness” to learn self-acceptance and compassion. In their performances, Chris and Cole demonstrate that disabilities are a superpower by showing that a dog can learn sign language.

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With permission from Sarah Cooper.

Men and the feels.

Note: This an excerpt is from Sarah Cooper's book, How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men's Feelings.

In this fast-paced business world, female leaders need to make sure they're not perceived as pushy, aggressive, or competent.

One way to do that is to alter your leadership style to account for the fragile male ego.

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