Legendary mountain moonshiner Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton has been arrested:
ATF Agent Gregory E. Moore wrote in a federal complaint unsealed Friday that an undercover agent has in less than two months bought from Sutton some 300 gallons of the untaxed liquor and was poised to buy another 500 gallons in a single transaction. Authorities instead opted to raid Sutton’s three properties, including a barn and an old school bus he allegedly used to store his ’shine, Moore wrote.
In those Thursday raids, authorities seized more than 850 gallons of moonshine and three stills with capacities of 1,000 gallons each. They also discovered “hundreds of gallons” of mash and other moonshine-making ingredients, according to a release by U.S. Attorney Russ Dedrick.
If court records and Internet accounts are correct, Sutton is an old-school moonshine man willing to do just about anything to outsmart the revenuers and protect his meal ticket. He has a list of prior convictions, including one for assaulting someone with a gun with the intent to kill, and a nasty reputation. The ATF alleged in the complaint that he went armed during his transactions with the undercover agent.
Although Sutton’s reputation as a moonshiner was well-known, he hasn’t racked up charges for making the booze since the 1970s. That changed when a still exploded at his home on Upper Road last April.
“Several local fire departments responded,” Moore wrote. “The fire was extinguished and (Sutton) was interviewed. During the interview, Sutton admitted his knowledge of the presence of approximately 650 gallons of untaxed alcohol, commonly referred to as moonshine, and further admitted to knowingly and willingly manufacturing the moonshine with the operable moonshine still that was on his property.”
Why is the ATF wasting time harassing this harmless old man?* So he makes moonshine. Why should anyone care? It’s in his blood. It’s what he does. His daddy and granddaddy probably did also. And his ancestors for centuries before, all the way back to Scotland. It was a way of life for Appalachian folks for many years. Heck, I’m sure some of my ancestors did it. The government isn’t prosecuting him because they care about safety, but because he isn’t paying taxes on it.
Moonshining a dangerous, unsavory work–but no one is forced to do it. Moonshine is fading away now, with the liberalization of liquor laws and such. Sutton is part of a dying breed. The government wants to bury his ilk for good. I say leave him be.
*No, I don’t doubt that he could be dangerous, but only to those who threaten his way of life. Leave him alone and I suspect he’ll leave you alone.
Cross posted at Tennesseefree