Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Legend of Popcorn Sutton

Mike Shaner
July 10, 2011

Although country music legend Hank Williams Jr. never met Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, he felt compelled to pay his respects. Mr. Sutton was a moonshiner who lived in the hills of eastern Tennessee.

Sutton who learned the trade from his father, was a true Appalachian folk hero famous for both his whiskey making and his story telling.

“I knew him through his talents, and his stories. That’s how I knew him, like everyone else knew him,”  Williams said.

Mr. Sutton wasn’t shy about his chosen profession he appeared in documentaries and even penned an autobiography: Me and My Likker.

Unfortunately, his cavalier attitude and iconic status were too much for the Federal government to bear. In 2007, agents from the ATF busted him with 850 gallons of moonshine. Regrettably, Sutton pleaded guilty to the charges.

In 2008, Mr. Sutton was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and was scheduled to report in March of 2009.

Sutton pleaded with the court to let him serve his sentence on house arrest due to his age and illness, but his plea was denied. Rather than live in a cage the 62 year old, free spirited mountain man tragically chose to take his own life.

The question is: in what way did Sutton offend society so harshly that he deserved to be caged like an animal? It’s understood that he broke a federal law but does this law actually have a right to exist? No person was injured, no property was stolen, no victim exists.

“The government couldn’t leave him alone, so he killed himself,” said Hank Williams, Jr. “It was all about something like $5,000 in taxes, which is about five minutes of my T-shirt sales.”

It is regrettable that Mr. Sutton never allowed this to go to trial. There is strong evidence, considering his age and notoriety that an east Tennessee jury would have nullified the charges.

According to dozens of east Tennessee and western North Carolina residents petitioned on Sutton's behalf. The petitions state, in part:

"The undersigned are personally acquainted with Marvin 'Popcorn' Sutton. We trust him in any matters of great importance in our everyday lives and welcome him as a neighbor. Considering his basic nature, age, and significant medical problems, we ask the court to consider leniency in sentencing Popcorn."

To which the judge inexplicably replied:

"Citizens in a free society do not have the right to pick and choose the laws by which they will reside.”

I agree with the judge, citizens do not have a right to injure nor to violate the rights of another. The government has even less right to do so. This is not the point Judge Greer was trying to make but it is the one that should be taken.

Popcorn’s property, freedom, and peace of mind were stolen from him. The Citizens of Tennessee would be wise to stand up to this tyranny.

They should demand that the ATF agents who trespassed onto Mr. Sutton’s property be arrested for trespassing, theft, and false imprisonment. If the local Sheriff does not have the spine to make such an arrest, fire him and elect a new one. If the prosecutors refuse to prosecute, fire them and elect new ones. At the very least circulate petitions to raise awareness. As people understand the concept, the movement will grow.

This type of nullification movement should be taking place in local townships all over the country. If an injustice is being committed against a citizen, an injustice is being committed to society.

Too many individuals face jail, fines, and harassment for non crimes like prostitution and drug use. Though these acts may be lacking in morality and one may find them personally offensive, they do not trespass on the rights of another.

No one should face the possibility of being punished for simply committing an act that the government (or another individual) would rather they not commit. If the citizenry were willing to prohibit tyranny, it would cease to exist.

As long as we allow the government to steal the fruits of our labor through forceable taxation, dictate to us what products we may produce or consume, and even restrict something so personal as our intimate relationships, liberty cannot exist. It is true that people deserve the government they allow. How much longer will we allow this one?

As for the legend of Popcorn Sutton, here was a man who was making a nice living, providing a quality product that was in high demand, and living totally off the grid. He never asked for a hand-out, only to work hard and be left alone. To a despotic Federal Government, there could be no greater offense.

Related articles:

Johnny Knoxville interviews Popcorn Sutton

Tyranny and Nullification

Sky Sutton's blog about her father

The War On Drugs: Judge rejects deal in Willie Nelson's Marijuana case

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