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How Rolling Stone's Miles Klee became an enemy of the QAnon Army

His review of 'Sound of Freedom' has attracted extreme reactions. "I'm not losing my job, I'm not going to jail. Their only satisfaction is in whipping themselves into a froth," he says in our Q+A.

Rolling Stone Culture Writer Miles Klee found himself at the eye of a right wing media shitstorm this week after writing a review of the new film Sound of Freedom. It’s the story of Department of Homeland Security Agent Tim Ballard (played by The Passion of the Christ star Jim Caviezel) who saves a young brother and sister from a child sex trafficking ring in Colombia, and eventually goes rogue to bring the whole thing down. 

The two hour and 15 minute tale is dripping with winks and nods at the QAnon crowd who believe in the conspiracy that pedophile child sex traffickers control the government and media, and it was tailor-made to rile them up. As Klee learned ever since his review entitled “Sound Of Freedom’ Is a Superhero Movie for Dads With Brainworms” went live last Friday: mission accomplished. Now he’s left to deal with an army of trolls on Twitter, Instagram, email, voicemail, and even LinkedIn who are hell bent on making him regret ever seeing the film.

I spoke with my long-time friend over email about death threats, finding new refuge on Bluesky, and whether right wing slut-shaming worked. 

Here’s our chat:

MARISA KABAS: Ok, so, to start off: Sound of Freedom is a film with a clear right-wing ideology and caters to a specific audience (of which you're clearly not a part.) And as you mention in your piece, it's a pretty fringe script that almost never saw the light of day. Can you tell me a bit about your decision to see the film and review it for a wider audience?

MILES KLEE: I was aware of the film because its star, Jim Caviezel, had been promoting it years before its release, when it didn't even have a distributor. He did so by spouting QAnon beliefs while glorifying Tim Ballard, the man his character is based on. In particular, Caviezel was insistent that a shadowy cabal is abducting children for the purposes of unspeakable torture and the extraction of adrenochrome—which is about as deep into Q lore as you can get. I knew that if he had attached himself to a movie about child trafficking, it would be both an irresponsible depiction of the problem and a potential gateway to more extreme conspiracy theories, just as innocuous-looking "Save the Children"-style campaigns have been used as cover for far-right radicalism.

KABAS: Since Rolling Stone published your review, you’ve gotten an extreme amount of hate from right wing outlets like Breitbart and the Gateway Pundit, and regular QAnon believers spamming your Twitter and email. And the attacks are highly personal. Did you expect this reaction? And why do you think they’re so upset with you personally?

KLEE: Child trafficking is real, and it's an extremely sensitive subject that stokes high emotion. My point in the review is that Sound of Freedom entirely misrepresents the issue while platforming dangerous conspiracists (besides Caviezel, Ballard himself has flirted with QAnon-style conspiracy theories like the Wayfair trafficking hoax, and his controversial anti-trafficking group Operation Underground Railroad declined to disavow Q when other such organizations did). I also noted that the movie mythologizes Ballard and Operation Underground Railroad in ways that audiences will take at face value despite their very sketchy record. This opened the door to the bad-faith reading that I had dismissed all child trafficking as fictional. 

I expected angry emails, and to an extent I also anticipated that critics like me would be useful in a viral marketing sense—the right could tout it as "the film THEY don't want you to see"—but I admit the intensity of the death threats and pedophile smears outstripped any previous hate campaign I've experienced in my career. 

To be honest, despite the vitriol, I don't even see it as personal: this is a demographic that thinks child abusers and groomers make up the entire government, entertainment industry, and media, and all run cover for each other. They got fired up because they imagined that I'd "outed" myself (or they'd "caught" me) and would soon be fired, arrested, whatever. For them I'm just a convenient embodiment of an evil they see as completely pervasive.

KABAS: How have you been dealing with this record-high abuse? Has the splintering of social media platforms had any effect on your approach?

KLEE: Let's see, I've been facing direct harassment via Instagram, Facebook Messenger, Threads (three different Meta platforms!), Twitter, email, plus some texts and voicemails. Even a couple of abusive messages on LinkedIn, which is hilarious. On the Meta networks, I just block, and my Instagram was already private anyway—which doesn't stop people from commenting on other pages that you're "hiding," even when their own accounts are private. I report the handful of posts that include slurs (just because I'm straight doesn't mean I'm going to tolerate homophobia!) or threats. On Twitter I mostly mute rather than blocking because I don't like to give the two-follower troll accounts the sense that they've won, and if they're starved of engagement, they move on. Amusingly, a lot of them seem unaware that Twitter automatically hides replies with the word "pedo" anyway. 

Overall, I don't respond to anything, but here and there I can't resist mocking the outrage, like when a certain grifter went after me for posting a shirtless selfie with the caption "slut moment." And I do like to taunt the haters now and then, so I posted a tweet pretending to reveal where I live, using a picture of the Church of Scientology headquarters in LA. A couple people actually believed me, and the post has been bookmarked like 60 times already. 

KABAS: I saw some people asking you if you knew where Shelly Miscavige was, and it was truly hard to tell who was serious and who was joking.

Has having Bluesky, a platform that's intolerant to QAnon and other right wing propaganda, been helpful at all while you deal with this seemingly endless cycle of hate?

KLEE: Oh, the Shelly replies are definitely jokes—thankfully I have a lot of online friends laughing along with me at the absurdity of it all, and occasionally sparring with lunatics on my behalf.

Bluesky is the one social app where I have received zero accusations of sympathizing with child abusers or being one myself. It's a pleasant refuge, but the calm is also surreal. I think, because the majority of users there had to be invited by a friend or mutual, it says something about the isolation of the rabid conspiracists. Who would ever give them a code to join? They're starved for meaningful connections in their lives, which is part of why they gravitate toward stuff like the broader QAnon movement—to feel like they have comrades and belong to something bigger.

KABAS: Does the scope of the response worry you that maybe the beliefs espoused in the film have gone beyond a fringe audience? Have we crossed a new threshold into what mainstream audiences find acceptable?

KLEE: Despite the volume of nasty comments, I get the sense that they still come from a very loud minority. When they find a target like me, they all start tagging each other into the fray, but to some degree it's a limited circle—they all know each other already. I sometimes had a major right-wing account bash me, which unleashed a wave of attacks from their followers, and then later noticed some nobody troll was tagging them after the fact to be like, Hey, did you see this fucking groomer? Yeah, man, they already got their licks in. In fact, they were probably the one who activated you in this flame war, and you just forgot. These cretins quickly run out of influencers to snitch to, and after the five most popular right-wing rags publish hit pieces, what's left? I'm not losing my job, I'm not going to jail. Their only satisfaction is in whipping themselves into a froth. 

Regarding the movie itself, while I do fear its long-term prospects as a recruitment tool, I believe the audiences making it a success right now were already in the bag. I just recorded a podcast episode with some friends who saw it, and one of them said the people entering the theater with him were openly, publicly discussing their QAnon beliefs in the lobby. No doubt a number of viewers will be radicalized by Sound of Freedom—it's designed to do that—but what we're seeing is a victory lap from those who were pushing conspiracy theories all along.

KABAS: This is all great, thanks so much for sharing. One final question: Will this experience keep you from having a "slut moment" in the future?

KLEE: Absolutely nothing can stop me from slutting it up.

Thank you for reading The Handbasket. 

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