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The Radical Center and the Outer Limits

By On

Did you every wonder what was really going on inside the racist right?

Usually caricatured by stereotypes of bed-sheeted Klansmen and goose-stepping neo-Nazis, the racist right continually flashes across the political landscape as disconnected scenes illuminated by lighting flashes of intolerance, hatred and violence. The Oklahoma City bombing took the nation by surprise, but the lead up to it had been playing in the media for nearly a year as a circus of marginal eccentrics playing soldier in the woods in cammo underwear. Then suddenly this amusing circus of nut jobs spawned the largest terrorist mass murder in American history. Pat Buchannan’s presidential campaign seemed like a minor sideshow of marginal eccentrics and racial nationalists until it collapsed in splinters by nominating a black woman for vice president. The resulting upheaval tossed a sizable chunk of the electorate back into the Republican camp and solidified a Republican majority to elect George W. Bush to the presidency.

These are only two of the political shocks delivered by the racist right in the last fifty years. They seem to be always capable of springing new surprises.

If you want to understand this important sector of the American political landscape, you will get satisfaction from the recent release of Leonard Zeskind’s book, Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream. Lenny spent 15 years working on a history of the extreme racist right in America. Among political researchers, this book has been eagerly anticipated for a long time. I went down to Seattle a couple of weeks ago to see Leonard Zeskind present his newly published book at a kickoff party for the new Seattle office of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights.

IREHR was founded by Zeskind to combat the worst excesses of racial extremism. It works by a combination of research, education, advocacy and organizing. It is one of the premier models for analytic research as the driving engine for effective social change. The research effort does not sit around reading books in libraries. They get much of their knowledge by getting right into the mix at the field level. This includes attending extremist gatherings and conventions to see what is happening at first hand.

The network of pro-democracy researchers who were way out in front of the wave of domestic terrorism in the 1990s depended heavily on Zeskind’s earlier work in establishing several research organizations throughout the country. Zeskind’s pioneering work in this area was recognized by the award of a MacArthur fellowship, the so-called “genius grants.”

The research network in the 1990s was very small, growing from about a dozen in early 1994 and numbering less than two hundred people at the peak. I was lucky to be able to play a small role in that network and got to know and respect Lenny and many of the other key players. The research meetings were sometimes knock down, drag out affairs, because we knew we were playing for high stakes. Three meetings in Bellingham, Issaquah and Portland in 1994-5 brought together the best minds to confront that problem.

The Issaquah meeting in January 1995, anticipated the Oklahoma City bombing and made efforts to head off the rising violence during that period. The majority of the information about the militia movement made public in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing came through that small research network and its efforts over the preceding 18 months. It was during the late 1990s that we began hearing about Lenny working on a comprehensive history based on his original and extensive research.

Zeskind’s analytic framework in Blood and Politics contrasts the parts played by Willis Carto, founder of the Liberty Lobby and publisher of The Spotlight, with William Pierce, founder of the National Vanguard and author of The Turner Diaries and Hunter. The Diaries were played out in real life by Robert Mathews and The Order, while Hunter inspired Timothy McVeigh and other “lone wolf” terrorists.

In a nutshell, Carto was a “mainstreamer” who wanted to influence the political establishment and Pierce was a revolutionary who wanted to violently destroy American civil society. Both were unreconstructed fascists, holocaust deniers and disciples of Adolf Hitler. This mainstream/revolutionary framework is very useful in understanding some of what has been going on over the last fifty years.

Because of his sharp focus on these two aspects in particular, Zeskind doesn’t deal with the entire American racist right, much less the American right as a whole. The extremist convergence in the 1990s that produced the militias and anti-abortion terrorism involved other movements that neither Carto nor Pierce were directly involved with, so this is a weak spot in the book. It may be partly due to Lenny’s deference to his good friend and long-time colleague, Daniel Levitas. Danny wrote the definitive history on the evolution of the Christian Patriots (aka Posse Comitatus and “militia movement”): The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right.

But the mainstream/revolutionary axis of white nationalism has never before been explained in such detail. The level of inside information and the precision of the chronology makes Blood and Politics both a gripping read and an immensely valuable tool for understanding a lot of the events on the extreme right in the last half century. It is comprehensive and minutely detailed. If you’ve ever wondered what was up with The Spotlight newspaper, skinhead rock, Jack Metcalf’s participation in extremist politics, the presence of neo-nazis in Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign or a host of other puzzling details, Blood and Politics lays it down and spells it out.

If, like most people, you heard about this in a vague and second-hand way, this book will shake you up.

I’m currently re-reading Donald Warren’s The Radical Center: Middle Americans and the Politics of Alienation. It’s a sociological study done in the mid-1970s and deals with the ideology of reactionary individualism. I’ll be having more to say about this in the future. About fifteen years ago, I read The Radical Center on the recommendation of Devin Burghart, one of Lenny’s colleagues who lived in Bellingham for a few years. The Radical Center was used by Sam Francis and others associated with American Renaissance to map out a strategy of white nationalism in the 1990s.

The central thesis of The Radical Center is there is a sizable chunk of white middle America that is intensely alienated from most institutions and political parties. These are the people who backed George Wallace, formed the core of the Goldwater movement, provided a lot of the troops for Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul when those demagogues tried to carve off the right wing of the Republican Party. They also formed the core of the “property rights” movement in the 1990s and continue to play a large role in Second Amendment politics, anti-immigrant agitation and extremist tax protests. Most recently, they have adopted a new political guise as the Tea Party.

Warren’s book perceptively argues that much of the framework for evaluating middle-class reaction is mistaken and that one has to comprehend the ideology and culture in order to understand the rejection of institutions in favor of individualism by that portion of America. All too often, what passes for political research is just name-calling. It’s a practice that doesn’t enlighten anybody, nor lead to effective means of confronting social and political conflicts. Warren is perceptive, sympathetic and critical of the group he call Middle American Radicals. The studies that form the basis of the book were done in the middle 1970’s, but found a deep vein of social unrest that continues to be very influential in contemporary American politics.

Lenny’s book traces many of the memes again floating to the surface with the Tea Party to an effort by the Carto faction to “mainstream” racial nationalism. Very few of the people who embrace these views today understand how the underlying ideas were produced and transmitted. In the the section of Blood and Politics dealing with the Middle American Radical thesis, Zeskind details how Donald Warren’s work was adapted by the Carto faction to generate a new strategy of mainstreaming white nationalism by rejecting the traditional emphasis on crude race-baiting and anti-Semitism.

This strategy of specifically targeting the radical center has successfully percolated through the American political scene. It is the initial impetus for the emerging debate on what it means to be an American. At the core, it is an attempt to fracture America along racial/cultural lines. The current furor among the “birthers,” immigration reactionaries, and people who seek the repeal of the 14th Amendment is the slightly cleaned up work product of hard core racialists.

I’m reasonably certain a lot of people orbiting around the Tea Party would reject many of these notions if they were presented in their original form and context. But as the rough edges get smoothed off of the ideology, what was originally the propaganda of racial extremists can look like a critique of political society that explains some of the tensions and dissatisfactions that beset the right wing of American politics.

Blood and Politics follows the political careers of two right-wing racial radicals through the entire arc of their lives. Both Carto and Pierce are now dead. The portion of the political margins these two men shaped during their lifetimes will now take on a different aspect as new leadership emerges in the future to fill the vacuum left by their presence. Knowing where they are going depends very much on understanding where they have been.

For anyone interested in the deep currents that shaped this uncivil sector of American politics, I can’t recommend Lenny’s book too highly. It’s an attention grabbing, keep-you-up-at-night political thriller.

About Paul deArmond

Past Citizen Journalist • Member since May 29, 2009

Paul de Armond was a writer, reporter and research analyst. He is the recipient of the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force 2001 Human Rights Award. In the 1990s, he and Jay [...]

Comments by Readers

Tip Johnson

Nov 23, 2009

Well timed piece, Paul.  Seems to deserve at least one comment.

Hot news in the Herald is the story of the Lummi Nation filing a timely comment on the Fairhaven Shipyard’s new drydock permit after the Army Corp of Engineers failed to notify them for three months.

The Lummis recently signed an Implementation Agreement with the Port saying they would not oppose the Shipyard permit along with a number of other projects.  Their comment does not strictly “oppose” the drydock, but it does hold up the operation.  Then the Lummi made, in my opinion, an ill-advised offer to retract the comment in exchange for a monetary consideration for each use of the facility.

This has been described as extortion and a number of other things in blog comments on the story. You really need to go read them. There are ten pages of them.  The first story is here.  A follow-up story is here, also with ten pages of blog comments.

The comments are interesting because the extend to rather severe, racist comments with barely veiled threats or encouragement of genocide, as if it were merely unfinished business.  Note:  Herald articles disappear after awhile, so this is all time sensitive if you want to see the course, racist underbelly of Whatcom County.

There are some other interesting features.  What struck me most was the relative acceptance local bloggers give our having abrogated all our treaties with the tribes and the indignation they show over one instance of the Lummis possibly having temporarily breached one provision of one contract.  It definitely seems like an asymmetrical standard.

Another interesting nuance involves the Lummi Island Ferry.  Many of these articles have dropped off the local news queue, but can still be found through the Herald’s search function.  Here’s one.

They involve quite a few similar racist comments.  So it appears that the Blood is still active in local politics.

What really interests me, though, harks back to earlier stories about problems with the Lummi Island ferry, including County consideration of buying a larger ferry and making expensive improvements to the docks.

In these articles, the bloggers, many of the same writers, unleashed a similar string of comments.  These, if not racist, were at least classist, denigrating Lummi Islanders as lazy potheads and slackards living out there to avoid working jobs and paying taxes. Of course, it’s not true.  Nobody pays more taxes in Whatcom County that Lummi Islanders, and nobody gets less service in exchange.  Nevertheless, they constitute a class that can be easily distinguished, and therefore seem to be open targets for the same kind of deprecatory comments as the tribe has recently attracted.

So maybe there is some general propensity for trolls in cyberspace to pick on any class they can single out, and to do so in the most ungracious terms - at least unpleasant and even violent or threatening.  But it seems to reflect a real undercurrent in local political thinking. 

However, what is most interesting to me is the involvement of the Port and now the County.  All the negotiations are done in secret and the records are being withheld from the public. Very likely, the Port’s horsetrading for non-opposition to their marina included agreeing to stay out of the Lummi’s plans for their own marina.  That agreement probably contributed to the Lummis deciding not to honor the County’s extension of the Lummi Island Ferry contract. But we cannot know, because they are all secret.

Now the County makes the same mistake, negotiating in secret, where the public can never know the ful details, and where even the County cannot know the full extent of the Port accords, because they have sworn to restrict the records to the “legislative authorities of the respective parties”.

It seems to me that many of us have concluded long ago that only good speech and deeds effectively counteract bad speech and deeds, and that daylight is the principal disinfectant that ultimately permits rational discourse to occur on such thorny issues.

Or as one famous bard put it, “Oh what a tangled web we weave…”

Daylight seems to be a desperately needed component in discussions moving forward. I think a good start would be to conduct all further negotiations in public, preferably broadcast on Channel 10.

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Doug Karlberg

Nov 23, 2009

Hey Tip, if I might be respectfully disagreeable for a minute.

While I deplore the racist remarks posted to the Herald?s site, I am certain that the racist remarks are a slim minority of residents, and the Herald?s allowance of anonymous postings contributes to this childish wolf pack mentality, one upping each other as to who can be the nastiest commenter on earth. Thank goodness, the NW Citizen site does not allow anonymous postings.

I would not attribute the comments on the Herald?s site as the sentiment of most citizens. Racism is not isolated and unique to ?white men? though. There are a handful of tribal members that dislike all ?white men?. When tribal folks who hold this minority view get in control though, bad things happen, just like in the ?white? society.

I must disagree with your characterization of the Lummi?s breaching of their agreement to not oppose several Port projects, including the Shipyard?s new job creating dry dock. This is not some ?minor? breach.

Which waterfront project or water rights issue could not be effected by bad faith negotiations and last minute surprises when folks are the most vulnerable? The work on the Waterfront Project just came to a screeching halt, as well as any water right transfers.

The single most important element in any agreement is that it is undertaken in good faith, and the parties agree to uphold their end of the bargain struck. Considering the Lummi?s broke the spirit of this very public agreement with the Port, before the ink was dry, is disastrous for their members. Falling on the heels of the County?s Lummi Island ferry agreement being terminated by the Lummi Nation, we are now staring at a situation between the citizens and the Lummi Nation where we simply cannot trust them to hold up any fairly negotiated agreement. This is a horrible situation that has been caused by Lummi leadership alone.

Why would anybody sit at the table and negotiate anything with them now?

The situation foisted upon the taxpayer this last week by the Lummi?s leadership was unconscionable. We are in a depression and desperate for jobs. Fairhaven Shipyards has made a huge investment to bring these good family wage taxpaying jobs to Bellingham. The Lummi?s agreed in spirit to not oppose this endeavor, for $300,000 in taxpayer monies paid by the Port (ie. John Q. Taxpayer).

Now the Lummi?s step up to the plate right when this company is contractually bound to pick up the Alaska State ferry, and begin significant hiring. The Lummi?s ask for more money, for the salmon supposedly. $20,000 to lift the ship up, and $20,000 to re-launch the ship. Every ship lifted forever and ever. The Nooksacks have the exact same Treaty Rights as the Lummi?s, and are probably waiting in the wings for their ?fees? to save the salmon.

Saving salmon does not include payments, but usually involves modifying or prohibiting human behavior that impacts them.

Salmon cannot spend money but people can. The salmon would have surely asked for clean water, rather than taking the cash.

You may disagree, but I think a reasonable person could smell greed here.

I am not at all clear that these ?Treaty Rights? so often referenced even have ANY power over the waterfront, like the Lummi?s are asserting. We may be paying for a legal bluff.

We should make sure the Lummi’s are on solid legal ground, before paying the taxpayers hard earned money.

The Port has a fiduciary duty to do this legal due diligence on our behalf, even if it means hiring an attorney who know this special area of law, backwards and forwards. I do not think the Port’s attorney has this experiance.

I don?t remember any Treaty Rights that have to do with shipyards. Where are the Lummi?s going to get their fishing boats pulled out of the water?

This could add up to millions in unexpected ?fees? for Fairhaven Shipyard. If I was Fairhaven Shipyard I would be hooking up the tug and towline, this magnificent drydock and making preparations to move it elsewhere, and take the jobs with it. Hard nosed capitalist? Nope. Putting any company in jeopardy to bankruptcy will cause any rational person to make the same move.

By the way, I would insist that the Port be responsible for legal fees from this fiasco. The Port made the agreement, and the Port should enforce it.

First, you argue that ?we? broke so many treaties with the Indians that we have no room to complain. I disagree strongly. Tip, you may have broken the Indian Treaties, but have not. First, I nor most of the folks in Whatcom County ever, ever breached any Treaties with Indian tribes. You make the mistake of blaming all ?white people? personally for something we did not commit.

The Port, City, nor County have never in my knowledge, ever broke any Treaty obligations. I was not a pilgrim, nor rode with Custer either. Fort Bellingham was not built to protect the ?white men? from the ?indians?, but quite the opposite. Fort Bellingham was erected to protect the Lummi Nation from raiding parties of Northern tribes which were engaged in rampant slave trading, with the Lummis being the slaves.

Reasonable folks can get tired of always being blamed for something they personally never participated in. This is not racism, but a sense of fairness, accountability, and responsibility.

Today, regular citizens participate in attempting to right some injustices, which they personally never caused, or would have participated in. For the most part we are good citizens, and do send extra tax dollars along to American Indian tribes so that they can rebuild their sense of pride and well being. This is a sacrifice that most folks can look to with pride, by simply extending a helping hand to those in need, without going through the exercise of who is to blame. People of good will trying to live in peace as good neighbors.

Our lives and communities future depends upon working out differences in good faith. Our lives are intertwined in ways we do not even think about until open conflict makes us take out scorecards. Sometimes we forget how many mutual areas of cooperation we have, and are at risk by escalating conflict. 

Many immigrant Americans are the product of fleeing injustices elsewhere in the world; Sometimes horrible injustices. Injustice happens to us all. Hiring attorney?s and suing for damages for past injustices, perceived or real, may not be the best solution.

The actions of Lummi leadership last week, was a step backwards. Let?s cool down and correct it. Taking these negotiations out of the backrooms, where all citizens can participate, would be an important step in rebuilding the trust of each other, and the people we represent.

These secret deals hatched in the backrooms, are a breeding ground for mistrust. I see nothing but furious constituents taking to the streets over these secret meetings.

Hopefully in writing this publicly, we can gain some understanding of both sides of the story. I have attempted to be civil and frank. I?d appreciate the same in return.

I would honestly like to hear Tribal members views. We have heard from Tribal leadership, but have not heard from Tribal members anywhere that I know of.

Might as well be the NW Citizen?s forum.

Welcome.

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Larry Horowitz

Nov 23, 2009

Tip and Doug,

Thank you both for your well-reasoned perspectives on the Fairhaven Shipyard issue.  Really, two of the finest comments I?ve read on any Bellingham blog.

One thing I continue to learn ? over and over again ? is that all action is rational when viewed from the actor?s vantage point.

So here?s the question:  What is the rationale for the Lummi?s recent action? 

Perhaps members of the Lummi Nation will accept Doug?s invitation to provide their views on this blog.  I would certainly welcome that as well.

I suspect there is an ongoing distrust that is at the core of this issue and the ferry issue.  Is it best to air that publicly?  I don?t know.  But certainly, if that?s an issue, it needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

I definitely don?t believe it?s helpful to introduce issues written about by many of the Herald bloggers.  Those comments only serve to incite rather than solve.  I also don?t believe it?s helpful to tell either side to ?cool down.?  As we?ve all experienced, being asked to ?cool down? when you?re already ?heated up? tends to backfire.  Better to simply ask each party why they have take the action they have.

I suspect there is some distrust between the leadership rather than the membership.  Do we honestly know what our leaders do behind closed doors?  Would we be proud?  Or ashamed?

Perhaps the problem isn?t so much transparency but the integrity (or lack) of those who deal in the dark.

Is it too much to ask to act our leadership to act with integrity?

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Tom Pratum

Nov 23, 2009

Just a brief comment with regard to Tip’s comment. I think the Port negotiations with the Lummi Nation, and those of the County are “apples and oranges” issues. I am not sure about the Port situation, and I am sure Tip knows more about that, but the County basically screwed up with regard to the previous lease agreement for Gooseberry Point by not making sure it was signed off on by the BIA, so the included provision for an extension was null and void. The Lummi’s are now - understandably - taking some advantage of that. I don’t know anything about the negotiations, but I doubt the County is secretly “selling us down the river” to get some kind of agreement. To tell you the truth, I don’t see what the County has to give away here other than cash, and if they give too much of that away, folks will be very upset I am sure….

Regarding the racist comments, I think the Herald’s policy of allowing people to anonymously post comments allows this to occur and reflects on just the kind of paper it is - a trashy one.

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Tip Johnson

Nov 23, 2009

Hi Doug,

I agree it was a serious breach, but just one so far and we don’t know yet why they would do it within a month or so of signing an agreement otherwise.  All I was pointing out was the “asymmetrical standard”.  I also opined that the monetary request was ill-advised.

I also agree that anonymous Herald bloggers of racist comments do not represent all of Whatcom County.  However, the ten pages of comments per article does show more energy than usual.

Then, I agree on transparency and getting the Lummi opinion. So I agree with Larry, too.

Tom raises a couple interesting points. First, that the County and Port issues are “apples and oranges”. Can’t say I agree with that.  Second, that the County “screwed up” and the contract was “null and void” because the BIA hadn’t approved it. Don’t agree there either.

But they are interesting points.  The Lummi contract with the County included a five year extension that would have been the County’s option without the technicality of the lacking BIA approval.  It’s questionable whether that will even hold up the extension since nearly the entire term of the parent contract was accepted without BIA approval.

Nevertheless, the accord with the Port is in the same boat. I would be very surprised if it has had any BIA review or approval.  Anyway, since it’s secret, the BIA would have little more to go on than the citizens of Whatcom County in trying to determine its full extent. We’ve already learned about one side deal, involving the property on Slater.

They may the same kind of fruit after all.  Remember, it was almost immediately following the announcement of the Lummi/Port accord that the LIBC announced their intention of not renewing the ferry contract.  It is more than a little likely that there is a direct connection between these items. The rub is that ordinary citizens cannot know.

That point alone makes them all the same fruit to me - rotten apples, to be precise.

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Paul deArmond

Nov 23, 2009

Looping back to the subject of the original post, the comments section of the Herald is an indication of something.  Exactly what is obscured by John Stark weeding out the comments that could lead to law enforcement taking an interest in what appears to be declared intent to commit violent crimes and, of course, the Herlad’s non-policy maintaining civil discourse.

Zeskind’s book can help to cast a little light on this matter, however.  A lot of the tropes in popular discourse these days originated out in the margins of white nationalism and have now percolated by cultural osmosis into supposedly mainstream political discourse.

Since you don’t know who the poster are on the Hairball’s web comments, they could be anybody.  Including white nationalists intentionally cranking up the rage and frustration so they can get a public attitude that permits and encourages violence.  So some of those posters may be trying to stir up racist attacks.  And it’s no secret that the anti-Indian movement is heavily infiltrated with white supremacists.

Similar sorts of infiltration and subversion were partly to blame for the implosion of the property rights networks by “Christian Patriots” in the mid-1990s.  The propertarians received them with open arms and then when things got out of hand, suddenly disavowed all knowledge and contact.  They were played and fell for the subversion like a ton of bricks.

More to the point, there is substantial evidence that at least one neo-nazi has been infiltrating the Bellingham Tea Party events to recruit supporters and steer the Tea Party in a more hard-right direction.  It’s detailed in a recent report by the Anti-Defamation League,  Rage Grows in America and there is a section (three links deep) that describes how at least one neo-nazi has been bragging to his peers on the Stormfront web site about his efforts   infitrating the Bellingham Tea Party.

All the more reason to grab a copy of Blood and Politics, or better yet, ask the local libraries to get some.

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Ham Hayes

Nov 25, 2009

Paul,

Following the link on the Bellingham Tea Party you provided, it seems, by their own admission, that many of self inflated racist-supremacists were rebuffed and ignored by the Tea Party folks. Not that they didn’t try, but I would guess that most Tea Party attendees wouldn’t see themselves associated with or ideologically led by white nationalism or racism. 

You also refer to the “racist right”.  Is it the thesis that “the right”, or conservatives, or Republicans are driven by a racist agenda?
 
I appreciate the clarification.

Ham

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Paul deArmond

Dec 04, 2009

Ham,

Of all the posters on the Stormfront thread about infiltrating the Tea Party, the Bellingham agitator had the most positive reception.  This was probably due to his being less crude than the norm for neo-nazis.

If you’ll reexamine my lead graf, you’ll find several concrete examples.  The phrase “racist right” is synonymous with “white supremacist”—that portion of the political continuum whose lead issue is the support and expansion of racial inequality.

This is in distinction to the “hard right” which rejects the existing political system (e.g. John Birch Society); “Christian right” which roots all politics in religion (e.g. Pat Robertson); “far right” is a broader term for those outside the mainstream political parties who favor some form of authoritarianism. 

These are all distinctions with perceptible differences: left and right are relative measures with lots of subtle shading.

Keith Poole’s work on analyzing voting patterns in Congress has shown that most mainstream political ideology can be explained by just two factors:  race (or social) issues and economic issues.  Both race and economic ideology in the U.S. pivot on a desire to increase or decrease equality in those realms.  Currently, the racial dimension is diminished and most of the political contest revolves around economic inequality.  But racial politics still have a great deal of power, as we shall see in the next year when Congress takes up the immigration issue.

I’ll have more to say about this in the future.

Paul

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