OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895

MEETING # 1575

4:00 P.M.

NOVEMBER 7, 1996

Morris S. Dees:
With Liberty and Justice for All

by the Rev. George E. Riday Ph.D.

Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library


George E. Riday was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1912. Following graduation from Eastern College and Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, he served as a minister of churches in New Jersey. During World War II he served as a chaplain in the United States Army for five years. Three of those years were spent in North Africa, Sicily, the Normandy Invasion and through Europe until the end of the war. His Master degree was earned at Wayne State University and his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. He taught psychology at San Bernardino Valley College, the American Baptist Seminary of the West, and was a member of the psychology staff at Patton State Hospital. He served as adjunct professor at the University of Redlands and the Department of Psychiatry at Loma Linda University School of Medicine. He is retired and active in community affairs.


Morris S. Dees, a lawyer in Montgomery, Alabama, is the co-founder along with Joe Levin, another attorney, of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Law Center, started in 1971, is dedicated to assisting the poor and disenfranchised by making legal expertise available. Mr. Dees and his staff have had many threats hurled upon them for their courageous opposition to the Ku Klux Klan and related white supremacist groups. Three projects the Law Center spends much of its time and resources on are: Klanwatch, The Militia Movement and Teaching Tolerance. The first of these keeps track of the activities of the KKK and prosecutes when feasible; the second, The Militia Movement, monitors one actions of civilian groups, many of which are preparing , for armed resistance against the federal government; the third thrust is an educational one titled Teaching Tolerance is designed to provide schools and other organizations with printed and video material which promote understanding of, and appreciation for those whose race, ethnic background, and religion differ from their own.

Morris S. Dees:
With Liberty and Justice for All

Are you familiar with the name, Morris S. Dees? Morris Dees lives with his wife, Elizabeth, on a farm in Mathews, Alabama. They have four children, Morris III, a physician, and John and Blake who are in the construction business. Their daughter, Ellie has a Master degree in Art Education. '

Morris was born in 1936 on a farm in Shorter, Alabama. His father was a farmer and cotton gin operator. During Morris' high school years, he was engrossed in agriculture with a skill and enthusiasm that resulted in his being named Star Farmer of Alabama by Alabama Future Farmers of America.

Mr. Dees attended undergraduate school at the University of Alabama where he founded a nation-wide direct mail sales company specializing in book publishing. Following his graduation from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1960, he settled in Montgomery, Alabama, where he opened a law office, but still continued his mail order business. The direct mail order business, Fuller and Dees Marketing Group grew to be one of the largest publishing companies in the South. The company pioneered in selling by direct mail much needed sex-education books for children. The company's New Horizon division published the nation's first aerospace encyclopedia in conjunction with the National Aeronautical and Space Administration and the Smithsonian Institution. In 1969, Mr. Dees sold the company to Times Mirror, the parent company of the Los Angeles Times. In recognition of his publishing endeavor and his effort to challenge and encourage young people to become active in the business world, Mr. Dees was dubbed by the United States Jaycees as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of America in 1966.

As a young attorney, Morris Dees became intensely concerned about many rampant injustices. He determined to provide legal aid to minorities and those living in poverty. During the years, the cause of the downtrodden and the disenfranchised has been his ruling passion. His endeavors have not gone unnoticed. He has received honorary degrees and other distinguished acclaim from many institutions, a few of which are the University of San Diego School of Law, Wesleyan University, Howard University, University of Pennsylvania School of Law, the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Award presented by the National Education Association, and Young Lawyers Distinguished Service Award, American Bar Association. He has been a Visiting Instructor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University for five years. Mr. Dees has authored Hate on Trial, A Season for Justice, and co-authored three other books on legal matters.

Julian Bond, currently the Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government at American University in Washington, D.C., back in 1971 was asked by Morris Dees to meet with him in order to talk about an organization Dees was interested in starting. He inquired ~ whether or not Julian Bond would like to have some part in it. Bond said, "I remember being taken with him--here was this white Alabaman setting up a civil rights firm. I remember asking myself, 'Why is he interested in doing this?"' Bond went on to say that Dees was compelling and convincing, and whatever hesitation he had quickly went away. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had been passed and upheld on appeal. Lawyers were needed who would file the cases that would implement these laws. At the time, most lawyers were reluctant to take on civil rights cases. They didn't pay well, if at all, and the community reaction often meant the attorney, if in private practice, lost a considerable number of clients. So, Morris proposed setting up a center dedicated to enlisting the services of lawyers determined to see that civil rights laws were implemented. Julian Bond became the first president of the Center's Board.

On a cold winter's day in January, 1971, Morris Dees and Joe Levin, a fellow attorney who also shared a commitment to racial equality and opportunity for minorities and the poor, opened what was to be called the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Center began with some old furniture, one typewriter, a line of back credit and no donors. But they did have a few civil rights cases inherited from their private practices. Dees stated he was able to work without pay for a few years because of past investments, but Joe was a young lawyer with a wife and two small children, and no money.

Enthusiasm for the Civil Rights Movement had lost much of its steam. Many lawyers who had helped in the early suits for racial justice had gone back North. A backlash was developing against gains made by minorities. Riots in Newark and Watts had not engendered favorable feelings toward civil rights initiatives. Apparently, a bad time had been chosen to start a new organization.

Dees remembered the first time he sent letters asking for financial support: it was on behalf of a black man charged with capital murder in the death of a white school teacher. The trial judge had pronounced the man "probably guilty" before the trial began, a comment carried in bold headlines in the Montgomery Advertiser. The story had been copied and sent with letters asking for help from people on a mailing list provided by national groups altruistic in their goals. In a few days, the first Center donor sent a gift of $15. Morris is still typing on the same Smith Corona manual typewriter used to compose that first appeal, but just about everything else has changed. By 1996, the Center had over 290,000 donors who contributed more than $14 million in a single year to support a wide range of exciting programs never dreamed of in 1971. Over the years, many supporters have consistently remarked,

"We know more about what our money goes for than any other group we assist. We read your letters and material because they tell us in simple, compelling terms what you are doing. We applaud your frugal operation which has allowed you to build an endowment for the future."

A splendid tribute to the integrity of Mr. Dees and his staff. He writes,

"Some things have changed; others have not. I have a computer sitting behind my desk that I am trying to learn to use, we have 55 devoted employees, and we have a dedicated group of donors willing to be part of our dream."

Not all is sweetness and light at the Center. On July 28, 1983, Mamie Jackson, an employee of the Center, was abruptly awakened at 4:00 a.m. It was her sister-in-law who was on duty at the Montgomery Police Station. "The Law Center is on fire," she shouted. Jackson arrived at the blazing building a few minutes later. Firefighters were vigorously trying to save the building, but it was beyond redemption. There was extensive damage to the legal and Klanwatch offices. Fortunately, the fireproof files had done their job; crucial information concerning the Ku Klux Klan had been preserved. The arsonists had pulled out legal files, doused them with gasoline and set them on fire.

Though the fire was a serious setback, legal and investigative work was not disrupted. Crucial court documents were prepared in attorneys' homes within two days after the fire. From makeshift offices, staffers continued working on lawsuits, monitoring the Klan and publishing the Poverty Law Report. A building fund was established and a new, more secure headquarters was designed. In the spring of 1984, ground was broken for the new headquarters.

An extensive investigation was undertaken which discovered a shocking scenario. The arsonists had crawled through the sewers and emerged through a manhole near the Center. They had broken a window, entered the building and poured gasoline everywhere and then ignited it and fled. More than a year after the Center fire, three men were arrested. All three were members of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and were charged with arson and with the possession of explosives. All three pleaded guilty and spent time in prison.

An integral part of the Southern Poverty Law Center's headquarters is an impressive Civil Rights Memorial, designed by architect and artist Maya Lin, who at the age of 21 designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Of all the Center's activities and programs there are three that are outstanding: KLANWATCH, THE MILITIA MOVEMENT, and the educational program TEACHING TOLERANCE.

What is KLANWATCH? In 1979, Curtis Robinson, a black man, shot a Ku Klux Klansman in self-defense during an attack on peaceful civil rights marchers in Decatur, Alabama. When Robinson was convicted by an al all white jury of assault with intent to murder, the Law Center appealed the conviction and brought its first civil suit against the Klan. The trial brought to light the extent to which the Klan had rebounded after its decline in the 1960s. Scores of cross burnings, beatings, shootings, and other attacks against blacks occurred between 1978 and 1980, and in only a few cases were there arrests and prosecutions. The attitude of many in positions of authority suggested that if the problem were to be ignored, maybe it would disappear. This view was considered as naive by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which felt that action must be taken immediately against the Klan before the situation grew worse. This decision led to the creation of Klanwatch, which began to bring civil suits against white supremacist groups for their participation in hate crimes. Over the next 12 years, judgments were brought against 37 individuals and 7 major white supremacist organizations.

Today, Klanwatch is the nation's most comprehensive source of information on hate groups. The project's files possess 15,000 photographs and 57,000 documented reports of bias incidents. This information is shared with local and state law enforcement agencies. It is also sent to the offices of the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Department of Justice, and Congress. Dick Thornburgh, former Attorney General has stated,

"I am particularly grateful for the cooperation extended Lathe Center to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice during my tenure at Attorney General. Your support of our efforts in the prosecution of hate crimes and in other civil rights initiatives was most productive."

In the aftermath of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in April 1995, Klanwatch fielded hundreds of requests for information about militia groups and their leaders. In 1989, as a result of Klanwatch's investigative activity, the Center filed suit against Tom Metzger, who lived near San Diego, and his neo-Nazi White Aryan Resistance after three skinheads beat an Ethiopian immigrant student to death by clobbering him with a baseball bat. The Center contended that the murder was a direct result of the training and direction that an agent for Metzger had given the skinheads, with Metzger's full approval. In 1990, a Portland jury agreed and assessed damages of $12.5 million, the largest in Oregon's history.

Nineteen-year-old Michael Donald was on his way to the store when two members of the United Klans of America abducted him, beat him, cut his throat and hung his body from a tree on a residential street. The two Klansmen who carried out the ritualistic killing were eventually arrested and convicted. Their case would have ended there but for Klanwatch.

Convinced that the Klan should be held responsible, Center attorneys filed a civil suit on behalf of Donald's mother. The Center won a historic $7 million verdict against the United Klans and all the Klansmen who played a part in the lynching.

The main purpose of Klanwatch is to track hate crimes and white supremacist activity. But the group also offers educational and training programs to help police and human rights groups combat organized racism.

It publishes and sends to over 6,000 law enforcement agencies the bimonthly Intelligence Report, which contains information about hate groups.

Klanwatch has produced an educational film, The Klan: A Legacy of Hate in America. It was nominated for an Academy Award and is widely shown in schools, churches, and other community organizations.

The second emphasis of the Center I would like to present is the Militia Movement. Well before the Oklahoma City bombing, Klanwatch picked up warning signals that violence directed at the federal government by persons associated with the militia movement might occur. Klanwatch detected strategic links between various militia groups and white supremacist organizations and leaders. This investigation and analysis prompted the Center to establish the Militia Task Force in October of 1994. At that time, Morris Dees, Chief Trial Counsel, wrote a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, and the Attorneys General of six states describing the "mixture of armed groups and those who hate" as a "recipe for disaster."

At a Klanwatch-sponsored conference on militia in March 1995, a group of law enforcement domestic terrorist experts from around the country met to assess the threat posed by the growing militia movement and formulate strategies to address this threat. In February 1996, the Militia Task Force identified 447 Patriot groups active in 50 states, and found that 42 of these groups had racist ties. Another 158 militia support groups (which generate and distribute militia propaganda, but do not conduct paramilitary exercises) were documented, 29 of them with racist ties. It is the Center's opinion that the Oklahoma City bombing was an act of domestic terrorism connected to the more extreme antigovernment militia.

Two events mark the beginning of today's militia movement. The first was a 1992 raid by federal agents at white separatist Randy Weaver's Ruby Ridge cabin in Idaho. The second was the 1993 government siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas.

It was something that didn't happen that sparked the militia movement and set into motion a chain of events that is still unfolding. In February 1991, Randy Weaver didn't appear for his trial on felony charges of selling two sawed-off shotguns to an informant for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Instead, he, his wife Vicki, their son, two daughters, and a family friend, retreated to a cabin atop Ruby Ridge, Idaho. They had plenty of food, weapons, and ammunition.

The Weavers embraced the Israel Message of Christian Identity. That message professes that white people are the true Israelites and that Jews and people of color are respectively, "children of Satan" and "the beasts of the field." It further maintains that America is the New Jerusalem and that the Constitution was derived from the Bible and given to the white Christian Founding Fathers by God. The Weavers never referred to God, because it is "dog" spelled backwards. God was called by the Hebrew name "Yahweh." The Israel Message teaches that only white Christian men are true sovereign citizens of the United States. Through Christian Identity, the Weavers learned that the income tax was unconstitutional and desegregation of the public schools was an effort to encourage interracial marriage. They believed that the federal government was controlled by a Jewish-led conspiracy of bankers who used the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Reserve Board to manipulate the economy for personal gain. The same group, they were told, was tightening its grip on the news media, the courts, and the economy to hasten a one-world government that would one day enslave all white Christians. One can readily understand their antagonism toward our government.

For 17 months, the United States Marshals Service kept a watchful eye on the Weavers. Then one day it happened: gunfire was the communication of exchange. Randy's son, Sam, and Vicki, Weaver's 43year-old wife, were shot and killed. The FBI sharpshooter who killed her said the shot was intended for one of the men who stood in the doorway where Vicki was holding the door open for her husband and the family friend. Both Harris, the family friend, and Randy Weaver were wounded. A deputy marshal was also killed in the exchange of fire. The next day, the government officers attempted to negotiate with Weaver, but he refused to speak to them. However, on August 31, 1992, Randy Weaver surrendered to authorities.

As can be easily imagined, news of the incident at Ruby Ridge rapidly spread among others who were disgruntled with the United States government. Members of a group known as the White Patriot Movement, who were so disenchanted by what they thought of our government ought to be, decided they would have nothing to do with it. They chose to live "off the grid"--no electricity, no sewage lines, no telephones--and as far from a population center as they could get. Some renounced all contracts with government by tearing up their drivers licenses, Social Security cards, marriage licenses, birth certificates, and hunting licenses. Some in the movement embrace racism and anti-Semitism. Some stockpile weapons and explosives and train themselves and their recruits in the use of them. To those in the Patriot movement, the siege at Ruby Ridge wasn't just an attempt to arrest one man. Rather, it was an attack on a way of life and the U.S. Constitution. It was a sign of just how far the federal government--no longer of the people, by the people, and for the people--would go to impose its tyranny upon freedom-loving Americans.

Pastor Pete Peters is the spiritual leader of Christian Identity. This "religion" holds as its basic beliefs that Jews are spawn of Adam and Eve, that blacks and other minorities are subhuman "mud people," that Aryans and not Jews are the true chosen people of God, and that a great race war will result in the extermination of all Jews and minorities. Peters believed the event at Ruby Ridge served as a turning point for the Patriot movement, and he was not alone in that belief. Chris Temple, a writer for The Jubilee, a major Christian Identity newspaper, said, "All of us in our groups...could not have done in the next twenty years what the federals did for our cause in eleven days in Idaho." He encouraged all white supremacists to bury their differences and unite in their opposition to the federal government.

Within days of Weaver's surrender to authorities, Peters sent letters to a broad spectrum of conservative writers, leaders, and ministers, inviting them to the resort town of Estes Park, Colorado for a conference that would confront the injustice and tyranny manifested in the killing of Vicki Weaver and her son, Samuel. He even invited U.S. Attorney General William Barr to attend and explain the government's actions at Ruby Ridge. Barr declined the invitation. So did many others. Among those who did attend was Louis Beam who gave the keynote address.

Morris Dees states that Louis Beam was a man he knew very well. More than a decade earlier, Beam had actually challenged Dees to an old- fashioned duel--no seconds, no FBI agents, no judges--just the two of them-man-to-man--Morris could chose the weapons--two of them walk into the woods, one walks out.

"'If you are the despicable, low-down, vile poltroon I think you are, you will of course decline, in which case my original supposition will have been proven correct and your lack of character verified,' Beam wrote in a letter that arrived in my office by certified mail in January 1983. 'If, on the other hand, you agree to meet me, you will raise immeasurably the esteem others hold you in. Imagine: acquaintances, associates, supporters, friends, family--your mother--think of her; why I can just see her now, her heart bursting with pride as you, for the first time in your life, exhibit the qualifies of a man and march off to the field of honor. (Every mother has the right to be proud of her son once.) You will be worse than a coward if you deny her this most basic of rights. Think of her.''In closing, let me make it clear that I believe you so base a coward that you will be too timid to even place a pen in hand to answer this letter, for I know a craven anti-Christ Jew when I have seen him. Here's your chance to prove me wrong."' Beam is not physically imposing. He stands about 5 feet seven inches, weighs about 130 pounds and sports a BORN TO LOSE tattoo on his upper left forearm.

Beam preached that the only race capable of governing the United States is the white race. Never should a black man, a yellow man, or a brown man rule a white man. He looked forward to the day when open warfare would break out. He saw the resulting chaos as a perfect opportunity for him and his Klan militia, the Texas Emergency Reserve, to wrest control of the country from the conspirators and return it to the white majority.

"We intend to purge this land of every nonwhite person, idea, and influence," he vowed. "There should be no doubt that all means short of armed conflict have been exhausted. We'll set up our own state here in Texas and announce to all minorities that they have 24 hours to leave. Lots of them won't believe us when we say we'll get rid of them, so we'll have to exterminate a lot of them the first time around."

Twice Morris Dees had done battle with Beam; not in the woods but in the courtroom. And twice did he defeat Louis Beam. Dees believes the embarrassment of legal defeat in his own backyard of Texas motivated the challenge to a literal duel. Beam and members of his Texas Emergency Reserve mounted a terror campaign against Vietnamese immigrants and their families who were operating shrimp boats out of Galveston Bay. It would be to him what the American Patriots were in 1776: the opening salvo to start the American Revolution. The campaign opened with the burning of an old shrimp boat with the words "USS VIETCONG" painted on its hull, as an example of what would happen if the Vietnamese entered Galveston Bay on May 15, 1981, the opening day of shrimping season. Two crosses were burned on the property of Vietnamese fishermen. Threatening phone calls were made to those who rented dock space to the Vietnamese and to those who did business with the refugees. More terrorist antics were perpetrated by men dressed in the hooded garb of the Klan. When Morris Dees and his staff learned of these attacks on the Vietnamese, he realized he had to take on the key man, Louis Beam. Dees says.

"Soon after we filed suit on behalf of the Vietnamese Fishermen's Association, we were informed by its leaders that their people were so frightened by the Klan's activities that they had decided against the legal action. The Vietnamese elders ordered the fishermen to sell their boats and give up fishing. I was stunned, but wasn't ready to accept defeat. I asked for a meeting with the association's elders. There I apologized for the way they were treated by my fellow Americans, outlined our legal strategy, and urged them to stand up to Beam and his bullies since the harassment would continue. The elders reversed their decision and we sought an injunction against Beam and his men that would forbid them from interfering with the Vietnamese fishermen. The day before the start of the shrimping season, a federal judge granted the injunction. The next morning, some of the other lawyers involved in the lawsuit and I watched the Vietnamese bless their fleet and enter Galveston Bay. I was never more proud to be a lawyer.

One can readily see how the militia movement would appeal to Louis Beam and how he would be considered one of their true leaders. Time does riot permit me to list and describe the unbelievable action of other so-called Patriots, but one other does deserve ignominious mention. His name is William Pierce. He is the most articulate strategist in the Patriot movement.

This former college professor of physics heads the National Alliance out of Hillsboro, West Virginia. His radio show, "American Dissident Voices" claims an audience of 100,000 listeners. He encourages his National Alliance members to join militia nationwide. Pierce is unapologetically racist and anti-Semitic. He writes,

"The New World Order is a utopian system in which the United States economy will be globalized; the wage levels of all American and European workers will be brought down to those workers in the Third World; national boundaries will cease to exist; an increased flow of Third World immigrants into the United States and Europe will have produced a nonwhite majority everywhere in the formerly white areas of the world. "The New World Order conspiracy," Pierce wrote, "is led by the Jewish stringpullers aiming at world domination for themselves and their kind."

Pierce is well known for his book The Turner Diaries, which he wrote under his pen name, Andrew Macdonald. The book chronicles in graphic detail the violent overthrow of the federal government by white revolutionaries. In 1980, a white supremacist underground movement used The Turner Diaries as a blueprint for a series of activities including bank robberies, armored car robberies, murders and counterfeiting. Pierce's book was also favorite reading for Timothy Mc Veigh, charged in the Oklahoma City bombing. There are striking parallels between that bombing and a bombing described in Pierce's book. Shortly after the bombing, Me Veigh reportedly made a telephone call to Pierce's private number.

Morris Dee's Southern Poverty Law Center had learned that there was an increase in hate crimes among our youth. Through the Law Center's landmark cases, powerful messages have gone to organized white supremacist groups. However, Law Center officials realized that court victories alone would do little to change the underlying attitudes at the root of hate in America. By the fall of 1990, racial and ethnic strife in communities across the nation was increasing. Nearly half of all the hate crimes were committed by youth under the age of 21. Nearly four out of ten young people polled admitted they would participate in or silently support racial incidents. Thus far, this doesn't sound happy or encouraging. Be patient.

Now for the encouraging word: After researching existing educational needs and strategies, Center officials recognized that there was an alarming lack of classroom resources to promote intergroup harmony. Most disturbingly, there was no single resource to help teachers learn of available materials and techniques designed to promote understanding. Determined to fill that void, the Law Center founded TEACHING TOLERANCE in 1991 to develop and distribute top-quality, free educational material to hundreds of thousands of teachers. Morris Dees' earlier experience in the publishing business was tremendously helpful. TEACHING TOLERANCE materials are based on lessons learned from many years of research in human relations education. The research indicated that the best techniques do not seek to indoctrinate, but are rooted in the shared values of democracy, fairness and respect for individual worth. In January 1992, the free semiannual magazine Teaching Tolerance began to fill the resource gap for individual teachers¾ showing them the variety of approaches that are working in American classrooms and providing them with a forum for exchanging ideas.

"Teaching tolerance is not a new endeavor," wrote Sara Bullard in the first issue of the magazine. "Every teacher with more than one student has striven for harmony in the classroom. Certainly this task becomes more complicated as the nation and the classroom grow more diverse. But the basic goal remains the same: to care about all of our children, and to help them care about each other."

The magazine now goes out to more than 150,000 educators twice a year. The first two TEACHING TOLERANCE videos and texts, America's Civil Rights Movement, and The Shadow of Hate, are used in more than 50,000 schools. The magazine and curriculum kits are used in all 50 states and many foreign countries. In 1995, the video portion of America's Civil Rights Movement won an Academy Award for Best Short Documentary; and the TEACHING TOLERANCE project was honored with the first annual Family Life Award from Family Life magazine, for its contribution to the lives of children and families in the United States.

This fall the Southern Poverty Law Center is sending, free of charge, a series of eight full-color posters to educators. A study guide included with the posters suggests activities that allow students at all levels to explore the themes of justice, peace, tolerance and unity. Class discussions, writing and research exercises, as well as music and art activities will center around the eight posters.

Morris Dees is the driving force and inspiration behind this genuinely American organization that truly seeks "liberty and justice for all." I experience a sense of disappointment when I mention his name and someone says, "Who's he?" I believe he is eminently worth knowing and supporting.


Dees, Morris S. Gathering Storm. Harper Collin Publishers, Inc. 1996.

Southern Poverty Law Center. Montgomery, Alabama. 1996.

SPLC Report. 25th Anniversary Issue, Montgomery, Alabama. 1996.

False Patriots: The Threat of Antigovernment Extremists. Montgomery, Alabama. 1996.

Klanwatch Intelligence Report. May and August, 1996.

Teaching Tolerance. Spring, 1996

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