What men's rights activists and other "anti-feminist" men have in common with white supremacists

What men's rights activists and other "anti-feminist" men have in common with white supremacists

It's not just Breitbart.

››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

The "Men's Rights Movement" (MRM) regularly overlaps with and reinforces white supremacy and the “alt-right” through a shared belief that dominant groups in society -- men and whites, respectively -- are actually oppressed. Along with other "anti-feminist" activists, this misogynist coalition seeks to force its regressive viewpoint on the rest of society, from movie releases to federal education policy. From online harassment to deadly violence, the MRM and its activists are an immediate and growing threat.


Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

“Anti-feminist” forces, including men’s rights activists, have “embraced misogyny as ideology”

The men’s rights movement is the brainchild of a former prominent feminist. As Mother Jones reported in 2015, Warren Farrell, an organizer with the National Organization for Women in the 1970s, “is widely considered to be the father of the men’s rights movement.” Farrell gained prominence in feminist circles through his stance that, as Mother Jones reported, “women were not the only ones hindered by sexism: Gender roles hurt men too, by forcing them to shoulder the financial burden of supporting families and stifle their emotions.” Once hailed as “the Gloria Steinem of Men’s Liberation,” Farrell later “came to believe that feminists were more interested in power than in equality.” By the 1980s, he had come out “swinging against feminism.” His 1993 book, The Myth of Male Power: Why Men Are the Disposable Sex, serves as a “touchstone” for men involved in the men’s rights movement (MRM). [Mother Jones, January/February 2015]

Men’s rights activists have “embraced misogyny as an ideology.” The MRM centers on the belief that “the primary victims of gender-based discrimination are men,” something Farrell wrote extensively about in his later books. Men's rights activists (MRAs) claim, for example, that “false allegations of rape and domestic abuse are rampant.” Journalist David Futrelle, who has tracked MRAs for years, wrote on his website We Hunted The Mammoth, which documents MRM and MRM-related activity, that MRAs “have embraced misogyny as an ideology, as a sort of symbolic solution to the frustrations in their lives – whether financial, social, or sexual.” [Mother Jones, January/February 2015; We Hunted The Mammoth, accessed 9/13/17]

Many participating in the “angry anti-feminist backlash” do not explicitly identify as MRAs, but nonetheless are part of the movement. Futrelle explained on We Hunted The Mammoth that while many men “embrac[ing] misogyny as an ideology” “identify as Men’s Rights Activists,” others including “Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW),” “Pickup Artists (PUA),” and other “anti-feminist and anti-women activists we might call ‘Men’s Rights-adjacent’” together make up the “angry anti-feminist backlash that has emerged like a boil on the ass of the internet over the last decade or so”:

Specifically, this blog focuses on what I call the “New Misogyny,” an angry antifeminist backlash that has emerged like a boil on the ass of the internet over the last decade or so. These aren’t your traditional misogynists – the social conservatives and religious fundamentalists who make up much of the far right.

These are guys, mostly, who range in age from their teens to their fifties, who have embraced misogyny as an ideology, as a sort of symbolic solution to the frustrations in their lives – whether financial, social, or sexual.

Some of them identify as Men’s Rights Activists, trying to cast their peculiar struggle against what they see as the excess of feminism and the advantages of women as a civil rights issue of sorts. Alongside those who explicitly label themselves MRAs we find a great number of antifeminist and antiwomen activists we might call Men’s Rights-adjacent – like those in the Skeptic and Atheist subcultures who still haven’t gotten over an offhand remark Skepchick founder Rebecca Watson made about a dude in an elevator a couple of years ago.

Others proclaim themselves Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW), declaring a sort of independence from women – while spending much of their time on message boards talking endlessly about them.

Still others see themselves as Pickup Artists (PUA), or masters of “Game,” espousing elaborate “scientific” theories of male superiority while trading tips on how best to pressure or manipulate drunk women into bed. This misogynistic wing of the PUA subculture has a considerable overlap with a subset of traditionalist and far-right blogs. Many of those in what has come to be called “the manosphere” — hey, don’t blame me, I didn’t come up with that name — don’t simply embrace misogyny; they also proudly embrace “scientific” racism and other bigotries.

Still, while some of the New Misogynists see themselves as conservatives, even “neo-reactionaries,” many identify themselves as libertarians or even as liberals. Theirs is a backlash that frames itself as a step forward. [We Hunted the Mammoth, accessed 9/13/17]

The MRM enables and encourages harassment of women. One feature of the MRM is the enabling and encouraging of harassing women. As Mother Jones reported, "Publicizing personal information to make someone a target of harassment (a.k.a. 'doxxing') is a common practice among men's rights activists." Mother Jones highlighted the story of one woman whose picture was published on the forum 4chan with an allegation that "she had lodged false rape accusations." The woman "was inundated with hateful messages and death threats, forcing her to delete all her social-media accounts and quit attending classes." The article also described a website, launched by a prominent MRA named Paul Elam who runs another website called A Voice for Men, that is “modeled after sex offender registries [that] purported to track female murderers and rapists, as well as women who scheme against men.” On his radio show, Elam explained that husbands could publish “even the route she takes to work, if she bothers to have a job,” and that his new website would make sure that “lying bitches” no longer had “any place to hide on the internet anymore.” Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti tweeted about her experiences after her personal information was published on Elam’s “registry”:

The SPLC’s Heidi Beirich explained to Mother Jones that “when you have a movement pumping out nasty propaganda, it invariably finds fertile ground” in the minds of men who desire violent retribution against women for perceived wrongs. [Mother Jones, January/February 2015; Twitter, 9/25/17, 9/25/17, 9/25/17]

Sexism and the men's rights movement can serve as a "gateway to white supremacy" and the "alt-right"

A Breitbart editor was a prominent voice of Gamergate, which “presaged the tactics” of pro-Trump trolls. A 2016 Guardian retrospective on Gamergate outlined how its members’ harassment of women “presaged the tactics of the Trump-loving far right movement.” As Futrelle told New York Magazine's The Cut, some in the MRM initially “looked at guys playing video games as a bunch of pussies, so they didn’t really get pulled into [Gamergate],” however, as the Trump campaign advanced, they began to sympathize with Gamergate, particularly the “pick-up artist” community, which “started talking about actual pickup-artist stuff a lot less and started throwing in right-wing, racist politics” like those central to the far right. The Guardian identified former Breitbart.com Editor-at-Large Milo Yiannopoulos, who co-hosted a “Gays for Trump” party at the 2016 Republican National Convention, as one of “Gamergate’s most prominent voices.” Yiannopoulos further stoked sexist hatred with his Breitbart columns, writing that “feminism kills women” and makes them “uglier.” According to The Guardian, Breitbart used Gamergate to “harness the pre-existing ignorance and anger among disaffected young white dudes” before the site’s chairman, Stephen K. Bannon, became Trump’s chief strategist two years later. [The Guardian, 12/1/16; New York Magazine, 12/14/16; The Washington Post, 7/26/16; Media Matters, 1/19/17]

BuzzFeed News' blockbuster report on how Breitbart courted white supremacy shows how it also facilitated MRM and anti-feminist harassment. In its recent exposé of Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos' active collaboration with white nationalists, neo-nazis, and otherwise racist alt-right figures for the benefit of Breitbart and Yiannopoulos' personal brand, the cache of emails obtained by Buzzfeed also reveal how Yiannopoulos utilized his connections from MRM harassment campaigns to cross over from white supremacist circles to those that included "hidden helpers in the liberal media":

In addition to tech and entertainment, Yiannopoulos had hidden helpers in the liberal media against which he and Bannon fought so uncompromisingly. A long-running email group devoted to mocking stories about the social justice internet included, predictably, Yiannopoulos’s friend Ann Coulter, but also Mitchell Sunderland, a senior staff writer at Broadly, Vice’s women’s channel. According to its “About” page, Broadly “is devoted to representing the multiplicity of women's experiences. … we provide a sustained focus on the issues that matter most to women.”

“Please mock this fat feminist,” Sunderland wrote to Yiannopoulos in May 2016, along with a link to an article by the New York Times columnist Lindy West, who frequently writes about fat acceptance. And while Sunderland was Broadly’s managing editor, he sent a Broadly video about the Satanic Temple and abortion rights to Tim Gionet with instructions to “do whatever with this on Breitbart. It’s insane.” The next day, Breitbart published an article titled “‘Satanic Temple’ Joins Planned Parenthood in Pro-Abortion Crusade.”

[...]

Dan Lyons, the veteran tech reporter and editor who also worked for nearly two years on HBO’s Silicon Valley, emailed Yiannopoulos (“you little troublemaker”) periodically to wonder about the birth sex of Zoë Quinn, another GamerGate target, and Amber Discko, the founder of the feminist website Femsplain, and to suggest a story about the public treatment of the venture capitalist Joe Lonsdale, who had been accused of sexual assault in a lawsuit that the plaintiff eventually dropped.

And the former Slate technology writer David Auerbach, who once began a column “Gamergate must end as soon as possible,” passed along on background information about the love life of Anita Sarkeesian, the GamerGate target; “the goods” about an allegedly racist friend of Arthur Chu, the Jeopardy champion and frequent advocate of social justice causes; and a “hot tip” about harsh anti-harassment tactics implemented by Wikipedia. Bokhari followed up with an article: “Wikipedia Can Now Ban You For What You Do On Other Websites.” [BuzzFeed News, 10/5/17]

David Futrelle: Men's-rights activism can serve as a gateway drug to the alt-right," in part because both "are based on a bizarro-world ideology in which those with the most power in contemporary society are the true victims of oppression." Futrelle explained in a New York magazine article that "There are good reasons why men’s-rights activism has served for so many as a gateway drug to the alt-right." He noted that "Both movements appeal to men with fantasies of violent, sometimes apocalyptic redemption" and that "both movements are based on a bizarro-world ideology in which those with the most power in contemporary society are the true victims of oppression." Futrelle pointed to several prominent members of the "alt-right" and white supremacist movements who have histories of men's-rights activism, including Mike Cernovich, Stefan Molyneux, and two men involved in the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, VA, Christopher Cantwell and Peter Tefft:

Cantwell is hardly the only alt-rightist with a past as a men’s-rights activist. Media gadfly, “sick Hillary” conspiracy theorist, and self-help guru Mike Cernovich was known for his men’s-rights talk before he turned to Trump and the alt-right — though he now claims to have broken with the movement. Canadian YouTube “philosopher” Stefan Molyneux declared himself an MRA long before he became a darling of the alt-right (and he recently conducted an interview with the author of that notorious Google memo, James Damore). Peter Tefft, a young man with a fashy hairdo who was famously disowned by his family after being outed as one of the torch-carrying marchers in Charlottesville, went through a men’s-rights phase before declaring himself a fascist, according to his nephew in an interview with CNN.

There are good reasons why men’s-rights activism has served for so many as a gateway drug to the alt-right: Both movements appeal to men with fantasies of violent, sometimes apocalyptic redemption — and, like Cantwell, a tendency to express these fantasies in bombastic prose. And both movements are based on a bizarro-world ideology in which those with the most power in contemporary society are the true victims of oppression.

In other words, if you can convince yourself that men are the primary victims of sexism, it’s not hard to convince yourself that whites are the primary victims of racism. And it’s similarly easy for members of both movements to see white men as the most oppressed snowflakes of all. [New York magazine, 8/17/17]

Salon's Amanda Marcotte: "At the root of both" anti-feminism and white supremacy "lies a thwarted sense of entitlement." After the Charlottesville white supremacist rallies, Salon's Amanda Marcotte also noted that "the world of online anti-feminism has become a gateway to white supremacy." Pointing to Futrelle's website, she observed that often "when men get together to gripe about their resentment of women's growing independence, they often start drifting toward talking about 'white genocide' and other white supremacist ideas." 

It's yet another example of how the world of online anti-feminism has become a gateway to white supremacy. While there hasn't been any rigid academic analysis of this phenomenon, sites like We Hunted the Mammoth, which started as a way to monitor the various and overlapping worlds of online misogyny, have tracked that when men get together to gripe about their resentment of women's growing independence, they often start drifting toward talking about "white genocide" and other white supremacist ideas.

[...]

Why hating women would lead so many men to hating nonwhite people is difficult to parse in logical terms. But racism and sexism aren't rational ideologies and really aren't bound by the basic rules of logic. At the root of both lies a thwarted sense of entitlement and a sense that women and people of color are somehow stealing what is the white man's due. That was felt most keenly in Charlottesville last Friday night, when the torch-wielding mob chanted, "You will not replace us!" [Salon, 8/18/17;

Vox: Misogyny is the "gateway drug" that brings many men into the "alt-right." As Aja Romano wrote for Vox, for many members of the "alt-right," "the gateway drug that led them to join the alt-right in the first place wasn’t racist rhetoric but rather sexism: extreme misogyny evolving from male bonding gone haywire." Romano also noted that the “alt-right” has embraced certain cultural issues and movements that marginalize women, such as boycotts of the female-led reboot of the movie Ghostbusters.  [Vox, 12/14/16]

Men’s rights ideologies have spurred violent acts and violence is currently built into parts of the movement

The MRM is built around violence. Individuals and groups involved in the MRM fixate on the fetishization of violence. One MRM group, the Proud Boys (PB), founded by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, mandates violence for members to advance in the organization. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), “the highest level of membership in McInnes’ organization, called a ‘Fourth Degree,’ can only be achieved once a member has engaged in violence with antifascists,” and a lower level, “second degree,” involves a contender prospect being “continuously punched in the body by PB members until he finished naming five breakfast cereals.” McInnes, who was filmed punching a protester at the pre-inaugural Deploraball, has touted violence as a “really effective way to solve problems.” But it’s not just McInnes; Paul Elam, another prominent MRA and Farrell’s protégé, believe October should be designated “Bash A Violent Bitch Month.” He also said former NFL player Ray Rice’s 2014 assault of his fiancée on an elevator was “justified” because “she had lunged at him,” according to Mother Jones. [Haaretz, 3/18/17; SPLC, 8/22/17; Mother Jones, January/February 2015]

In 1989, a Canadian man killed 14 women at a Montreal university “to send the feminists, who [had] always ruined [his] life, to their Maker.” On December 6, 1989, 25-year-old Marc Lepine “roamed the corridors of Montreal's École Polytechnique” for 45 minutes and killed 14 women with a .22-caliber rifle. Lepine screamed “I hate feminists” just before he began shooting, and during the massacre he kept yelling, “I want women.” Lepine’s suicide note said that he had “decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their Maker”; the note ended with a list of 19 names and phone numbers of women across Canada that Lepine identified as feminists. Men’s rights activists have harkened back to Lepine’s shooting spree in a variety of ways. On a Reddit forum for men’s rights, a commenter lamented that “because of this one guy who targeted women we’re all supposed to cry about how hard it is to be female.” Additionally, in 2014 an email blast to Utah State University threatened a school shooting if the school didn’t cancel an appearance by a feminist speaker. The email sent to students, according to Canada.com, “praise[d] Lepine as a ‘hero to men everywhere for standing up to the toxic influence of feminism,’” a phrase which is “associated with the dregs of men’s rights activism.” [CBC, 12/6/89 via Internet Archive; SchoolShooters.info, 7/29/14; We Hunted the Mammoth, 12/6/13; Canada.com, 10/15/14]

In 2011, a Norwegian man killed 77 people because media turned men into a “touchy-feely subspecies who bows to the radical feminist agenda.” On July 22, 2011, Anders Behring Breivik carried out two terrorist attacks in Norway that killed a total of 77 people, including 33 children. Breivik’s 1,500-page manifesto, according to Mother Jones, “seized on men’s rights ideology,” and included references to women using “erotic capital” to “manipulate” men, as well media making fathers “disposable” and men, in general, a “touchy-feely subspecies who bows to the radical feminist agenda.” [Mother Jones, January/February 2015; BBC, 3/15/16; Reuters, 7/24/11]

In 2014, a California man killed six and injured 13 more because “girls gave their affection, and sex and love to other men but never to [him].” On May 23, 2014, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger promised a “day of retribution” on YouTube before using a knife, a gun, and his car on a killing spree in Isla Vista, CA, that ended with six deaths (plus his own) and 13 injuries. In a manifesto uploaded to YouTube before the murders, Rodger said his desire to kill stemmed from being “forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires all because girls have never been attracted to me,” adding, “You girls have never been attracted to me. I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it.” HuffPost reported that Rodger was an “active member” of PUAhate, an online forum for men who felt cheated by “dating gurus and the seduction community” after their suggested techniques for convincing women to have sex did not work. Rodger “also subscribed to several YouTube channels on how to be a 'pick up artist'” and to several MRM channels. [CNN, 5/24/14, 5/28/14; HuffPost, 5/25/14]

In 2017, a white supremacist drove from Baltimore to New York City to murder a random black man for “mixing with white women.” In March, James Harris Jackson drove from Baltimore, MD, to New York City and fatally stabbed Timothy Caughman on a Midtown street corner, The Baltimore Sun reported. Jackson, who has been charged with terrorism and a hate crime, singled Caughman out from the people on the sidewalk solely because of his race in what New York Magazine's The Cut described as a "trial run" for a larger "massacre of black men in Times Square." According to the charging document, Jackson was angry at black people for “mixing with white women.” According to The Cut, Jackson subscribed “to a vast collection of channels promoting the ‘Men Going Their Own Way’ movement, a more radical and openly hateful version of men’s-rights activism, sans even the pretense of activism.” [The Baltimore Sun, 3/27/17; New York Magazine, 3/31/17

Gamergate, allegedly about “ethics in the gaming-industrial complex,” was actually about threatening women with rape and murder. According to Deadspin, Gamergate refers to “a relatively small and very loud group of video game enthusiasts” who began to allege they wanted to “audit ethics in the gaming-industrial complex” but are “instead defined by the campaigns of criminal harassment that some of them have carried out against several women.” Gamergate began with a false 2014 allegation that a female video game designer had previously dated a male video game critic for the sole purpose of getting a positive review. The designer in question, Zoe Quinn, was extensively harassed. She told The Telegraph, “I can’t go home because they have been posting around my home address, often with threats attached.” Current congressional candidate Brianna Wu, who is a video game developer, was an early target of Gamergate harassment; she receives threats to this day:

Wu told HuffPost, “To this day, when someone sends me a message saying they’re going to kill or rape me, I feel nothing. I just feel nothing. You can tell me it’s raining outside and I would have the same emotional response, just because it’s so exhausting.” [Deadspin, 10/14/14; The Telegraph, 10/24/14; Twitter, 2/27/17, 2/27/17, 2/27/17, 2/27/17, 2/27/17, 2/27/17; HuffPost, 3/13/17]

“Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville was organized by a Proud Boys member and attended by several others who became violent. Jason Kessler, the chief organizer of the August 12 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, was a member of Proud Boys until McInnes expelled him when, according to McInnes, he found out about Kessler’s racist beliefs and disavowed the protest. Nevertheless, photographs obtained by the SPLC show several Proud Boys members at the protest. One of them, Alex Michael Ramos, was seen with several other attackers brutally beating counter-protester DeAndre Harris next to the Charlottesville Police Station in a viral video. Ramos was arrested after bragging on Facebook, “I’m glad I stomped some ass out there. You hurt my people -- I guess we hurt you back.” [The Globe and Mail, 8/18/17; SPLC, 8/22/17; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 8/29/17; New York Daily News, 8/18/17]

Thrice-convicted felon and internet celebrity Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman -- famous for attacking a counter-protester in Berkeley, CA -- founded the Proud Boys’ “military division.” The Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights (FOAK) was founded in April 2017 by Kyle Chapman, who in March 2017 became famous in “alt-right” circles as the “Based Stickman” for attacking a counter-protester at the University of California, Berkeley, with a large stick. FOAK was founded with an explicit allegiance to Proud Boys; McInnes has labeled FOAK a “military division” of Proud Boys with its “own bylaws, constitution, rituals and vetting process.” Chapman ended his statement announcing FOAK’s founding with the exhortation, “President [Donald] Trump has our back for the next 8 years. The timing couldn’t be better. Let’s do this!” Chapman has three felony convictions -- robbery (1993), grand theft (2001), and felony possession of a weapon (2008) -- and is currently facing his fourth felony charge for the Berkeley assault. [Proud Boy Magazine, April 2017; SPLC, 8/22/17; The Smoking Gun, 5/8/17]

MRAs attach their misogynist views to mainstream topics 

Men’s rights activists denounced the “affirmative action policies” pushed by Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In October 2015, the #BoycottStarWars campaign began to gain traction on Twitter, targeting Star Wars: The Force Awakens for “promoting white genocide” with its “lead characters who aren’t white males,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. Even though #BoycottStarWars was initially grounded in racism, men’s rights activists embraced the campaign as well, with the MRM website Return of Kings publishing a review of the film that attacked director J.J. Abrams for “tick[ing] the boxes with plenty of female and non-white characters.” The review characterized the motivations of Rey, the lead female character, as “Fuck the patriarchy!” and Finn, the black lead character, as “This is for slavery, whitey!” [The Hollywood Reporter, 10/19/15; Return of Kings, 12/20/15]

Author of the “Google anti-diversity manifesto” who said biological differences contributed to gender disparities in tech gave first interview to a “men’s rights blogger.” Google engineer James Damore was fired on August 7 for writing an internal document -- that was leaked online and went viral -- in which he argued that “at least some of the male-female disparity in tech could be attributed to biological differences,” as he described it in The Wall Street Journal. Damore gave his first post-firing interview to “men’s rights blogger” Stefan Molyneux, who, according to We Hunted The Mammoth, has argued that if women “don't have a husband … to keep the child is abusive." Damore complained to Molyneux that “there was a lot of just shaming [in a Google diversity program] and ‘no, you can’t say that, that’s sexist.’” Elizabeth Spiers, founding editor of Gawker, called Damore’s “intellectually dishonest conclusions and misreading of scientific studies,” “vapid bullshit.” 

Far-right media figures, including Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson and Townhall senior columnist Kurt Schlichter, embraced Damore and his memo, and the conservative website WeSearchr set up a legal defense fund for him. Damore also attracted widespread ridicule for a series of tweets arguing that “if you make the actual KKK the only place where you can acknowledge the coolness of [Dungeons & Dragons] terms” -- a reference to Ku Klux Klan titles such as grand wizard -- “then you’ll just push people into the KKK.” [The Wall Street Journal, 8/11/17; New York Magazine, 8/9/17; We Hunted The Mammoth, 7/7/14; Twitter, 8/5/17, 8/6/17Media Matters, 8/8/17; Right Wing Watch, 9/20/17]

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced plan to roll back Obama-era Title IX guidelines on sexual assault after meeting with men’s rights activists. On September 7, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that she planned to end the Obama administration’s “weaponiz[ation of] the Office for Civil Rights to work against schools and against students,” referring to Title IX guidance for universities to handle sexual assault accusations, a couple months after she met with men’s rights activists to discuss the guidelines. As a September 22 Playboy article explained, DeVos conveyed the “grossly inaccurate notion that false reports of sexual violence are just as common as sexual violence itself,” an “echo” of President Trump’s “‘both sides’ narrative surrounding white supremacist violence.” One of the groups she talked to was the National Coalition for Men, whose president, Harry Crouch, has said of former NFL player Ray Rice knocking out his fiancée that “if she hadn’t aggravated him, she wouldn’t have been hit. … Why can’t [the NFL] have a week, or just one day, where they celebrate men?” Another group at the meeting was Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, which the SPLC reported is dedicated to “roll[ing] back services for victims of domestic abuse and penalties for their tormentors, while working to return the focus to the ‘true victims of abuse’ — the falsely accused.” After the meeting, DeVos told reporters that “all their stories are important,” referring to sexual assault victims and those who reportedly attacked them, and that the stories of the latter “are not often told.” DeVos’ comments came a few days after her assistant secretary for civil rights told The New York Times that 90 percent of sexual assault claims “fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk, we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation.’” [Playboy, 9/22/17; We Hunted The Mammoth, 7/12/17; USA Today, 7/14/17]

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