It was all so absurd and unbelievable from the start.
Conservatives across the US have used social media over the past month to weave a conspiracy in which a fascist film known as Sound of Freedom was being censored and undermined by shadowy forces. We were to believe that wage workers at movie theaters across the United States had coordinated with an international left-wing cabal bent on suppressing a film about conservatives' supposed concern with human trafficking. In between filling buckets of soda and truckloads of popcorn for theatergoers, theater staff were supposedly taking orders from on high – maybe from Jewish bankers or corrupt United Nations officials or Antifa super soldiers or, possibly, Joe Biden himself, huddled with the joint chiefs and calling from the Oval Office to dictate exactly how theaters should censor Sound Of Freedom.
Sound of Freedom, in case you're not a chronically online broken brain like me, is a right-wing cult hit starring QAnon Jesus, Jim Caviezel, who depicts a Homeland Security agent tasked with breaking up child trafficking rings. The movie plays on the fantasy that the right's political opponents are sexually exploiting and abusing kids – a fascist trope that harkens back to the worst, most toxic, most deadly political movements of the 20th century (and a common theme in autocracies like Hungary, seen by many on the American right as a model to emulate). It aligns perfectly with the foundational aspects of the deranged and dangerous QAnon movement, which pretends Donald Trump and his allies are secretly fighting against child sex predators that have infiltrated the government and elite society. It's strikingly similar to what German conservatives thought about Adolf Hitler and his allies in the late 1930s.
It's a nice little bad-faith trick, crafting a reality in which far-right politicians have to take extrajudicial measures to stop their opponents – presumably mainline Democrats and liberals – from exploiting children. What else are these patriots to do with the stakes so high? Many of these extrajudicial measures predictably turn into calls for mass arrests and executions of Democratic Party leaders, and it's all justified by the wholly invented reality of the QAnon freak show. What better way to circumvent legal and democratic norms than to weave a story so horrifying, so bone chillingly terrible that we have no time for the machinations of law and order and, importantly, elections – something Republicans can no longer win without cheating. It is quite the hack to securing power for a party that long ago gave up on representative democracy.
The New York Times, among other mainstream outlets, has reviewed Sound of Freedom, trashing it as a poorly made film rather than a piece of mainstream fascist propaganda that deals in the most odious kind of political messaging, known as "elimination rhetoric." These media outlets have made no effort to connect the dots between Sound of Freedom and an increasingly powerful part of the Republican Party spreading the deadly lies of QAnon acolytes.
Sound of Freedom has grossed nearly $90 million since its release, yet theaters showing the film are regularly empty (more on that later). The explanation is a simple one: Right-wing organizations are clearly purchasing Sound of Freedom tickets in bulk as a way to inflate box office numbers and force mainstream media outlets to acknowledge the movie and describe it as popular and, critically, normal. The same strategy has been deployed over at least the past three decades with books written by right-wing radio and TV talkers. Conservative groups and the Republican donor class buy tens or hundreds of thousands of these god-awful books to guarantee their spot on the New York Times bestseller list, thereby legitimizing the author, the book, and the political messaging therein. No one is reading these books, just as no one is watching Sound of Freedom. No normal American is interested in crazy-ass far-right politics, and nobody should be subjected to the ghastly quality and production value of conservative books and movies.
It's all a trick to normalize fascism and all its ugliness. And in a capitalist society in which art and culture is overwhelmed by money, it has worked beautifully.
Building A Movement With Bad Faith
Sound of Freedom comes at least two years too late to take full advantage of the QAnon fever that gripped Republican voters in the run-up and in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. But it has managed to revive twisted conspiracies about government censorship and control, namely that some kind of far-left organization is systemically stopping Americans from seeing Sound of Freedom and its all-important messaging about a vast child exploitation ring run by enemies of the American right.
In the days after its release in mainstream theaters, Q-brained folks logged on to wax poetic about the various plots hatched to stop Americans from seeing Sound of Freedom and all its political righteousness. Q freaks said theater projectionists had sabotaged the film, that the air conditioning had been cut off in theaters showing the movie, and that theaters were marking the movie as sold out to keep people from buying tickets and learning the ugly truth as told by right-wing Jesus himself. These theories have been widely and thoroughly debunked, though we know – as experts in bad faith – that debunking doesn't work because the truth does not matter in an age of tech oligarchs systematically destroying objective reality.
(Seeing social media posts about the air conditioning cutting out before and during showings of Sound of Freedom reminded me of seeing the unfortunate 2008 X-Files movie, I Want To Believe. The AC stopped five minutes into the screening; by the end, I was wiping sweat from my brow, afraid to stand up and show my swamp ass to people behind me. I suppose AMC was trying their damndest to hide the truth about extraterrestrial life. Inspired by Mulder and Scully, with pit stains and a sweat-soaked ass, I knew the truth was out there.)
It's inconvenient for the QAnon narrative that right wingers do not give a single shit about children, American or otherwise. They have made peace with schoolchildren being slaughtered by madmen in their classrooms; they have made every effort to claw back labor gains that had shielded kids from the grinding horrors of work; they have pushed back against policies that would ensure kids don't go hungry; and they have outlawed medical care for transgender children under the guise of fighting "child abuse." Folks on the right don't give a fuck about the human trafficking crimes committed by a range of Republican governors, including Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis, both of whom have shipped migrants to Democratic-controlled states in a lecherous and inhumane political stunt that should be investigated by authorities. It doesn't seem to bother them that Republcan Rep. Matt Gaetz, a leader of the congressional fascist caucus, has been accused of human trafficking and having sex with a minor. They seem not to care about the chairman of Trump's Oklahoma campaign is in prison for child trafficking (this is because all politics is projection, and if you're hyper fixated on pedophilia, well, you know the rest).
The American right wing has made every effort to worsen the lives of American children with unconscionable economic austerity and catering to the paranoid androids that make up the base of the Republican Party. That we are to believe these people care for children would be insulting if it weren't so ludicrous.
This vile sort of bad faith is the far right's way of appealing to a more moderate, more sane part of the electorate – folks who don't spend every waking hour on the internet getting worked up about moderate Democratic members of Congress kidnapping children, drinking their blood, and transmuting that blood into political and economic power. Who doesn't care about kids? Protecting children would seem to be a uniting political issue that would draw normies to the fascist cause, however mistakenly. In this way, the right-wing panic about pedophilia is a strategy, a useful tool in ballooning their ranks ahead of important elections. If you're against us, the thinking goes, you support the pedophiles and human traffickers.
The right has forced the media and political mainstream to acknowledge their dangerous messaging with useful little tricks like buying out theaters showing Sound of Freedom. We shouldn't be surprised that mainstream outlets have fallen for the trick, for they are not designed to account for the torrent of bad faith deployed by a radicalized conservative movement.
Follow Denny Carter on Twitter at @CDCarter13.