Alex Massie

Fred Thompson, Scourge of Moonshiners

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So, Fred Thompson is just a conservative good-old-boy from Tennessee whose folksy charm is his biggest selling point. OK, well then you might expect that Fred would be a champion of traditional Tennessee values. Not so!

The Los Angeles Times reviews the 88 cases Thompson prosecuted as a US Attorney in Nashville between 1969 and 1972 and discovers that though:

There were a few bank robbers and counterfeiters. But more than anything, Thompson took on the state's moonshiners and a local culture, rooted in Tennessee's hills and hollows, that celebrated the independent whiskey maker's battle against the government's revenue agents.

Twenty-seven of his cases involved moonshining -- more than any other crime.

"Hell, I made whiskey and was violating the law, but I didn't do nothing wrong," said one of Thompson's many moonshining defendants, Kenneth Whitehead. "I would do it again if I had a still. I can't afford a still now."

...For a small-town boy such as Thompson, pursuing rural whiskey makers represented a mild apostasy.

"Rocky Top," one of Tennessee's official state songs, tells of "two strangers," presumably tax agents, who disappear forever while "lookin' for a moonshine still" on a mountaintop. NASCAR auto racing grew from roots in bootlegging, and movies such as Robert Mitchum's 1958 classic "Thunder Road" romanticized the moonshine culture.

Nearly 40 years after the demise of Prohibition, most of Tennessee's counties remained dry, creating a demand for moonshine -- home-brewed, untaxed liquor. The federal levy on legal whiskey was more than $10 a gallon. By contrast, a Tennessean could buy moonshine for $6 a gallon.

Chasing the moonshiners "was hard work," said Charles Lowe, who investigated cases for the federal division then called Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. "The population in general bought the whiskey, and they kind of sided with the bootleggers philosophically. But Fred believed in what he was doing. . . . He fought."

As the t-shirt says, Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms Should Be A Convenience Store Not A Government Agency. How can any red-blooded son of Appalachia (or anywhere else for that matter) vote in good conscience for a man with Thompson's dubious record?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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