In the year after the mass shooting at a Parkland, FL, high school, the National Rifle Association’s broadcast outlet NRATV developed a relationship with members of the state commission set up to analyze the response to the shooting and suggest security improvements, which included arming classroom teachers.
The 16-member panel was put together to “investigate system failures” and recommend policies for active shooter situations as part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, a “sweeping school-safety law” signed by Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott a month after the Parkland school shooting left 17 dead. NRATV host Grant Stinchfield praised the legislation on the one-year anniversary of the shooting, calling the law “amazing” and reminding viewers that “the NRA worked hard to get [it] passed.” Among its recommendations, which were released in December, the commission called for arming teachers who undergo background checks and training.
Commission members were chosen by state Republicans -- Scott, then-Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and then-Senate President Joe Negron. They initially included three Parkland parents in the commission, though Andrew Pollack, whose daughter was killed in the shooting, later resigned. The panel held its first meeting on April 24.
On August 16, Pinellas County Sheriff and commission Chairman Bob Gualtieri appeared with NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch on her NRATV show Relentless and echoed a common NRA talking point that “police officers cannot be everywhere.” He claimed, “The unfortunate reality is is cops can’t be everywhere all the time, and if there had been a good guy with a gun on that campus or in that building, there’s no doubt in my mind that they would have been able to minimize the carnage.”
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, a commission member, has made at least five appearances on NRATV’s Stinchfield and Cam & Co. since his appointment to repeat NRA talking points and push for more guns in schools. On November 28, Judd appeared on NRATV with host Grant Stinchfield to take credit for guiding his “dear friend” Chairman Gualtieri toward supporting armed teachers after he initially expressed discomfort with the idea:
GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): Here we have another recommendation that teachers should be armed. Not surprising to you, but what do you think about this recommendation? Was it surprising to others in Florida?
GRADY JUDD: Well, do you know, I don’t think it was a surprise to others in Florida because Senate Bill 7026, which we pushed through, mandates armed guardians or school resource officers on every campus. Sheriff Gualtieri is a dear friend of mine and chairs the commission -- I’m on that commission with him. I established that position early on as, you know, through my sentinel program. Bob originally -- Bob Gualtieri, the chair -- was not really comfortable with that. And as I worked with him -- and he and I are dear friends and are on several committees together. And the research we developed through this shooting, it was abundantly evident had teachers -- not all teachers; those that wanted to and were capable of and completed thorough training -- could have and would have saved lives that day. We know one teacher that was shot by our suspect, had actually pulled himself over into a corner, and then the suspect came back and shot him again, fatally killing him, obviously. But we know he would have shot and killed the active shooter had he had a firearm. Had he had that firearm, not only would his life have been saved but so would have a lot of other children in school that day. As I’ve said over and over, Grant, this is not something we want to do. When I was a kid in school, we didn’t have to have armed security on campuses. But this is a new normal and a new day. And we have to have someone there so if we can’t discover this active murderer, shooter, ahead of time, that when they arrive on campus, somebody is there to stop them before they can hurt our students and our teachers.
STINCHFIELD: You know, sheriff, to me this is all common sense. I mean, I don’t really even think you need research to understand the very basic premise that [NRA executive vice president and CEO] Wayne LaPierre coined the phrase “The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” I know that research has been done, it backs up your case, but to me it comes down to just simple common sense. You’ve got to meet a threat with equal or greater force. That’s the only way to stop a threat. This does that, doesn't it?
JUDD: It absolutely does.
Two weeks later, on December 12, the commission released a draft report that listed “a series of failures by Broward County agencies and recommendations for avoiding a similar tragedy in the future,” the Sun-Sentinel reported. Among its other recommendations, the commission voted 14-1 to allow classroom teachers to carry guns provided they undergo background checks and training.
Less than a week after the draft report was released, Loesch revealed that Gualtieri told her information about the shooting that was released to the commission but not to the public. On her December 18 radio show, she said CCTV footage from inside the school showed that the gunman took seven to 10 seconds to reload, a longer time compared to “an adequately trained person” who “can reload in a second.” The commission submitted its final report to the governor and state legislature on January 2.
The NRA has long advocated for putting armed personnel in schools, and even though NRATV ramped up its advocacy following the Parkland mass shooting, there is little to no evidence putting guns in schools will stop mass shootings. An FBI study of 160 active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013 found that only four incidents were stopped by “armed individuals who were not law enforcement personnel” (three security guards and one licensed and armed citizen) -- compared to 21 incidents stopped by unarmed citizens. A working paper released in March 2018 by Johns Hopkins University education professor Sheldon Greenberg that relies in part on analyses of police officers’ confrontations with armed suspects also concluded that arming teachers would do more harm than good.
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More than half of the live news updates from the National Rifle Association’s media operation, NRATV, fearmongered about undocumented immigrants during the recent government shutdown, which was caused by President Donald Trump’s demand that Congress fund a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
During the 35-day shutdown, which ended on January 25, NRATV broadcast 95 segments on its news program Stinchfield. The show, hosted by conservative radio host Grant Stinchfield, consists of 10- to 20-minute hourly updates on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. EST. According to a Media Matters review, 54 of the segments aired during the shutdown fearmongered about undocumented immigrants to agitate for Trump’s fantastical and racist border wall proposal. In three instances, NRATV invited Michael Cutler, a frequent contributor to a white nationalist publication, on to the outlet to advocate for Trump’s wall. Additionally, NRATV correspondent Chuck Holton pushed explicitly white nationalist talking points during one of his appearances.
While it may seem odd that an outlet dedicated to gun-related issues would devote so much time to pushing for Trump’s wall, NRATV is actually best understood as a pro-Trump propaganda network with an explicit aim of promoting whatever his agenda happens to be that day. (In once instance, Stinchfield did connect immigration to the NRA’s goal of loosening concealed carry laws nationwide, saying we should do so because of “the issues we face with immigration and crime.”)
In this report:
NRATV’s scapegoating of undocumented immigrants for problems in the U.S. began on December 28 -- the first day that the network broadcast Stinchfield after the partial government shutdown began. Throughout his broadcasts that day, Stinchfield repeatedly raised the murder of California police officer Ronil Singh by an undocumented immigrant to create the false perception that undocumented immigrants often pose a public safety threat to those in the U.S. Falsely claiming that Trump’s wall proposal would “stop the large majority of those sneaking in today,” Stinchfield said, “We are tired and fed up of seeing innocent people slaughtered at the hands of illegal immigrants,” and added, “It is time now to stand firm with President Trump. Let’s build this wall.” During another update later that day, NRATV correspondent Chuck Holton connected without evidence the murder of a Swiss man in Acapulco, Mexico, to a migrant caravan poised to enter Mexico from Central America. (Speaking of the migrants in the caravan, Holton also added, “You can bet that these are not doctors and accountants coming along. These are unskilled laborers coming to a place that’s absolutely chock full already of unskilled laborers. So you can imagine how that’s going to go.”)
That trend would continue: During the 20 days NRATV broadcast during the shutdown, only one -- January 25 -- did not feature a segment fearmongering about undocumented immigrants. The implication that undocumented immigrants pose a grave public safety threat is meant to scare NRATV’s viewers, but it is not based on reality. Research has proved that undocumented immigrants commit crimes -- including murder -- at lower rates than people born in the U.S. do. There is no evidence that the wall would improve public safety (although Stinchfield stated that it “will instantly make us all safer” during a January 2 broadcast).
Stinchfield made up an outrageous statistic to push for the wall; during the January 8 and January 9 broadcasts, he claimed without evidence that undocumented immigrants have killed “tens of thousands” of people in the U.S. in recent years.
Making matters worse, Stinchfield’s claims about immigration were often not off the cuff -- instead they were scripted and packaged, with the same talking points appearing during multiple Stinchfield updates. Some examples:
NRATV hosted Michael Cutler during broadcasts on December 28, January 3, and January 21, identifying him in on-screen graphics as a “former INS agent.” Cutler, who is also a former fellow at the nativist Center for Immigration Studies, is a frequent contributor to white nationalist journal The Social Contract. The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that the publication “routinely publishes race-baiting articles penned by white nationalists” and that it was founded “by John Tanton, the racist founder and principal ideologue of the modern nativist movement.” According to SPLC, The Social Contract Press “puts an academic veneer of legitimacy over what are essentially racist arguments about the inferiority of today's immigrants.”
A search of the journal’s website returns 21 articles authored by Cutler, including six articles published since 2017. Echoing Stinchfield, Cutler emphasized undocumented immigrant criminality during his appearances on the show. During his January 21 appearance, Cutler claimed that Democrats are betraying “national security and public safety,” and Stinchfield closed the segment by saying that Cutler “has a long history of defending our nation’s borders.”
Chuck Holton, an NRATV correspondent with a history of making racist remarks and promoting white nationalism, pushed a conspiratorial white nationalist talking point during a January 4 appearance. Holton alleged that Democrats are “trying to import a new populace that will vote for them by offering them all these free benefits” via the southern border from “Third World” countries such as India, Cameroon, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, and those “all over Africa.” Describing immigration as “trying to import a new populace” from “the Third World” is a common tactic advanced by white nationalist publications including VDare and American Renaissance.
While speaking about immigration on NRATV before the shutdown, Holton repeatedly pushed the conspiracy theory that philanthropist George Soros was behind a migrant caravan -- a remarkably similar conspiracy theory to the one that motivated a gunman who carried out a mass shooting in a Pittsburgh, PA, synagogue in October. He has also said that the migrant caravan is “an invasion under the guise of migration.”
On NRATV, Stinchfield mostly depicted undocumented immigrants as criminals poised to commit everyday violence like robbery or murder, but there were some exceptions. In one instance, he fearmongered about the prospect of undocumented immigrants getting national voting rights.
In several other cases, Stinchfield and Holton took cues from the Trump administration to raise the prospect of undocumented immigrant terrorists. For example, citing a terrorist attack in Africa and incidents in the U.S., Holton said during the January 16 broadcast of Stinchfield, “This is yet another reason why we need that wall on the southern border.” While providing no examples of terrorists crossing the southern border, Stinchfield said during a January 18 update, “Look at what happens when terrorists make their way into this country. If you want to secure the border, you do it, you build a wall.” According to the libertarian Cato Institute, no U.S. terror attack has ever been carried out by someone who crossed the border illegally.
The sickening irony of NRATV’s obsession with the supposed criminality of undocumented immigrants is that if the outlet was truly concerned about public safety and murder, it would devote its time to reporting that high gun availability and lax firearm laws are the driving factors behind the U.S.’s shockingly high homicide rate, with the vast majority of murders committed by people born in the U.S. But it doesn’t. The NRA, of course, opposes any meaningful action on gun laws to stem that epidemic of violence.
Stewart Rhodes and his Oath Keepers embrace white supremacist talking points and have provided security to far-right extremists while endorsing the use of “lethal force” against left-wing protesters
Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and members of his far-right armed militia were spotted in the front row at President Donald Trump’s February 11 rally in El Paso, TX. Rhodes has advocated for training armed militias to do Trump’s bidding, embraced white supremacist conspiracy theories, endorsed using “lethal force” against left-wing protesters, and called on armed Oath Keepers to stand guard outside of schools and to spot unauthorized crossings at the U.S. southern border.
Rhodes founded Oath Keepers “in the direct aftermath of the election of the nation’s first black president,” Barack Obama, in reaction to the baseless claim that the federal government was hellbent on destroying liberties protected by the Constitution. The militia holds radical anti-government beliefs and is made up of “current and formerly serving military, police, and first responders” claiming to uphold the oath they made to “support and defend the Constitution.”
In reality, the group and its founder openly espouse radical beliefs. Some of these include calling transgender rights “nuts,” dismissing the racist use of blackface as “nonsense,” and claiming Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is using identity politics focused on “anyone not white” to “weaponize them against their own nation.” In the Obama years, the group promoted conspiracy theories such as "mass, forced internment into concentration camps" and claimed that they were operation to "prevent dictatorship" in the United States. In 2015, Rhodes reportedly said that Sen. John McCain "should be hung by the neck until dead"; Rhodes also was one of the far-right figures pushing the Jade Helm conspiracy theory. Rhodes also reportedly claimed that the Obama administration was using Ferguson riots and the Ebola virus to "spark a race war."
Rhodes has repeatedly pushed baseless claims of massive voter fraud by undocumented immigrants and directed his armed militia to combat it. In the days leading up to the 2016 presidential election, he announced “Operation Sabot 2016,” and asked fellow Oath Keepers to “go out into public on election day, dressed to blend in with the public … with video, still camera, and notepad in hand, to look for and document suspected criminal vote fraud or intimidation activities.” While he asked that they not bring guns, the Oath Keepers are closely associated with open carry protests, including the open carrying of firearms during protests against police brutality in Ferguson, MO, in which armed members looked down from rooftops.
On December 5, Rhodes went on Alex Jones’ Infowars outlet to push the white supremacist talking point that a caravan of immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border was evidence of “globalists” (a term with anti-Semitic connotations) executing what he described as “the latest tactic or assault in an ongoing war on the West to flood us with Third World people and then overwhelm us and kill our countries.” He called for the Justice Department to indict “all these NGOs that are assisting these illegal aliens coming into the United States.” A similar white supremacist conspiracy theory that migrant caravans are the result of a Jewish plot to replace white people was embraced by the shooter who went into a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, and killed 11 Jewish people in October.
Two days after Infowars posted Rhodes’ appearance, his group issued a “call to action” on Twitter, asking members to head to the southern border “to conduct surveillance and to spot and report any suspected illegal infiltration of the U.S.”
Rhodes has also talked about forming an armed militia to do whatever Trump wants. During one of his frequent guest appearances on Infowars, Rhodes announced the launch of “a new program called Spartan training groups.” Rhodes said that the program is for “the average American” to learn combat skills to be available if “called out by the president of the United States to serve as a militia of the United States to secure the schools, protect our borders, or whatever else he asks them to do.”
He also talked about the group’s involvement in providing security for far-right rallies and advocated for armed militias to recruit retired police for their nationwide concealed carry privileges as a “final line of lethal force” against anti-fascist protesters in any jurisdiction. Rhodes alluded to working alongside other violent extremist groups such as Patriot Prayer -- the group responsible for a cache of firearms found on a Portland, OR, rooftop in preparation for a protest last summer -- and the self-identified gang Proud Boys.
In another appearance on Infowars, Rhodes hinted at the Oath Keepers murdering anti-Trump protesters, saying that left-wing protesters were coming close to “forcing” militias like his to have “no choice” but to “kill them.”
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In the span of only a few days last week, three shooters killed a total of 14 people in three separate mass shootings in Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana -- but you might not have heard about these incidents at all if you watched cable news. The shootings were barely discussed on the major cable networks, and the minimal coverage quickly faded away within days.
On January 23, five women were killed in a SunTrust bank in Sebring, FL, after a 21-year-old gunman walked in and reportedly “shot every person he encountered.” The gunman then called the police himself and surrendered to a SWAT team after a brief standoff. He is now charged with five counts of capital murder for the deaths of Ana Piñon-Williams, Marisol Lopez, Cynthia Lee Watson, and two other victims who have not been named.
In the days following the public mass shooting, cable news devoted scant coverage beyond mentioning the incident in headlines. From January 23-26, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC together covered the shooting for just over 20 minutes, including reading headlines and short teasers. The majority of the coverage occurred the day immediately after the incident. Fox News devoted about 12 minutes in total to the shooting, followed by CNN with just over 7 minutes, and MSNBC with only 22 seconds.
The next day, January 24, a gunman in Rockmart, GA, killed four people -- Helen Rose Mitchell, Jaequnn Davis, Arkeyla Perry, and Dadrian Cummings -- and injured one more before fleeing to Indianapolis, IN, where he was taken into custody. The Polk County coroner said it was the worst crime experienced by the local community and compared the shootings to an “execution.”
All three major cable networks ignored the Georgia mass shooting entirely.
Only two days later, on January 26, another 21-year-old gunman fatally shot his parents, Elizabeth and Keith Theriot, in Ascension Parish, LA. The gunman then drove 30 miles northeast to Livingston Parish and allegedly fatally shot his girlfriend, Summer Ernest, along with her father, Billy Ernest, and brother, Tanner Ernest. A manhunt ensued before he was apprehended in Richmond County, Virginia on January 27. The Ascension Parish sheriff called the pair of shootings “one of the worst domestic violence incidents I’ve seen in quite a while.”
Yet the major cable news networks devoted similarly little coverage to the Louisiana shootings beyond immediate breaking news headlines. All together, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC again spent just over 20 minutes covering the incident, including reading headlines and short teasers, in the the three-day window following the shootings. From January 26-29, CNN gave the incident just over 11 minutes of coverage, followed by Fox with a little more than 9 minutes, and MSNBC with only 24 seconds.
While both CNN and Fox did mention the sheriff’s statement that the shootings were considered “domestic violence incidents,” none of the minimal coverage of the Louisiana shootings provided viewers with any context about the well-documented links between easy access to firearms, domestic violence, and mass shootings. Here are some of the relevant facts they could have mentioned:
Media Matters searched SnapStreamHD for “shoot” OR “shot” OR “gunman” OR “kill” or “Florida” OR “Sebring” OR “SunTrust” after January 22. All mentions of the shooting were timed, including teasers, headlines, and full segments.
Media Matters searched SnapStreamHD for “shoot” OR “shot” OR “gunman” OR “kill” OR “Rockmart” OR “Georgia” OR “Indianapolis” OR “Polk County.” All mentions of the shooting were timed, including teasers, headlines, and full segments.
Media Matters searched SnapStreamHD for “shoot” OR “shot” OR “gunman” OR “kill” OR “Louisiana” OR “Virginia” OR “Livingston” OR “Ascension” after January 25. All mentions of the shooting were timed, including teasers, headlines, and full segments.
Dan Bongino, the latest addition to Fox News’ lineup of contributors, is a former NRATV host and tea party congressional candidate who honed his conspiracy theories on the fringe platform Infowars. He is now bringing his attacks and smears on the investigation into whether President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election to Trump’s favorite network.
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Radio and Fox News host Sean Hannity has highlighted his gun ownership to push membership in the U.S. Concealed Carry Association. But a former NYPD lieutenant says he didn’t meet the qualifications for his New York City concealed carry permit and that he got it thanks to a “culture of corruption” in the New York Police Department’s License Division.
According to a January 23 New York Daily News article, an ex-NYPD lieutenant spoke about what the paper described as “culture of corruption within the unit responsible for processing city gun permits” in the department and “favors for powerful people ordered by his supervisor.” One of those alleged favors was approval of a gun license for Hannity, who did not meet license qualifications, said the former lieutenant who is facing sentencing for his role in the gun permit bribery scheme.
A spokesperson for Hannity told the paper he has had a gun permit for the majority of the more than 20 years he’s been at Fox News, “has followed every legal and proper procedure,” and does not have a relationship with anyone in the NYPD licensing department.
Hannity has repeatedly used his radio show to shill for the U.S. Concealed Carry Association (USCCA), “the largest organization that’s dedicated to protecting those of us that are responsible gun owners before, during, and, God forbid, after any self-defense incident,” as he described it. He has advertised a USCCA giveaway offering “10 chances to win whatever your dream gun happens to be” and promoted membership following mass shootings. He said the association has a “family defense guide,” and if you read it you will “learn … how to survive a mass shooting” and “how to detect your attackers before they see you.”
Hannity is also a longtime opponent of efforts to strengthen gun laws. The radio and TV host has insisted it’s a “misconception” that guns are dangerous and claimed, “They're only dangerous in the hands of a criminal.” Following the 1999 Columbine school shooting, Hannity pushed a common National Rifle Association talking point that instead of having stronger gun laws, the laws on the books should be better enforced, saying, “What good is the laws we have if we don't even enforce them?”
During the April 11, 2013, edition of his Fox News Show, Hannity called the effort to strengthen gun laws after the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, CT, “naked exploitation of dead children and grieving families”:
SEAN HANNITY (HOST): If you look at Aurora, and you look at Newtown, there is nothing that’s been proposed here, not a single thing, that would have prevented the tragedy. Now I have a solution: I would put retired military, retired police in every school in the country, just like we protect presidents, politicians, Hollywood liberals, sports stars, and our money. Why not do that?
ANN COULTER: [Democrats] will exploit and play with these victims and say that their gun laws are going to do something. No, their gun laws are going to hurt the defense of the innocent.
HANNITY: Listen, I got to tell you: It’s more than that. It’s naked exploitation of dead children and grieving families. It’s play acting, it’s feel good-ism, and I got to tell you something, the whole thing is grotesque, because not one of these -- not one of their proposals would have prevented what happened.
Hannity has also repeated common pro-gun talking points by insisting that mass shootings are “not a gun issue,” that “guns are not the problem, but they can be part of the solution,” and that it’s “shameful” to talk about gun safety after a mass shooting.
In perhaps his most unhinged act as both gun owner and gun shill, Hannity allegedly pointed a gun at Fox News contributor Juan Williams during an off-air incident at Fox News’ studios.
Update (1/28/19): Approximately an hour after this story was published, Hannity read a new ad for USCCA during the first hour of his radio program. He said that “terror attacks can happen to anybody, any place, any time.” But instead of feeling “helpless in stopping them,” listeners can get a “complete mass shooting survival guide” from USCCA for free.
Melissa Joskow / Media Matters
Three men and one adolescent boy have been arrested for plotting a terrorist attack against Islamberg, a community in Hancock, NY, near the Catskills that was founded by African-American Muslims in the 1970s.
This is the third time in recent years that a violent plot against the community has been uncovered. Fox News and other conservative media outlets have demonized Islamberg and its residents for years, often with the unfounded allegation that the town is a terrorist training camp. Local and federal law enforcement have repeatedly said there is no basis for claims about the town that have circulated in conservative media.
On January 19, three men and a juvenile from East Rochester and Greece, NY, were arrested after local law enforcement uncovered a plot to attack nearby Islamberg. Authorities recovered three homemade bombs and 23 firearms during the investigation. Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan told reporters, “If they had carried out this plot, and we have every indication that was what they were going to do, people would have died.” Muslims of America (MOA), a group located in Islamberg, released a statement thanking law enforcement for foiling the plot, writing, “It is beyond tragic that our nation continues to fester with Islamophobia, hate and religious intolerance.”
Islamberg was previously targeted for violence in 2015. Robert Doggart, a Tennessee man who plotted to “round up a militia and burn down a mosque, school and cafeteria in the upstate New York community of Islamberg” while shooting anyone who attempted to stop them, pleaded guilty to several federal charges in 2017. When the story broke in 2015, Fox News didn’t even cover it despite serving as a platform for false attacks on the town for years. Also in 2015, far-right activist Jon Ritzheimer was arrested after he “posted a video online showing himself with a gun and saying he was traveling to the town for a possible confrontation.”
The Outline’s Gaby Del Valle published an extensive investigation into an anti-Muslim protest outside of Islamberg and the previous planned attacks on the community, noting that much of the vitriol toward the town has been driven by conservative media, particularly Fox Business host Lou Dobbs and, in recent years, members of the extremist Proud Boys group.
In particular, Islamberg has been smeared with the claim that it serves as a guerilla training camp for terrorists. The source for this claim is Ryan Mauro of the anti-Muslim organization Clarion Project. During media appearances, Mauro often shows a video he claims depicts the women of Islamberg engaging in guerilla warfare training. The source of the video has never been corroborated. (If the individuals in the video were white, conservatives would have likely said it merely showed people exercising their Second Amendment rights.) Muhammad Matthew Gardner, the public relations director for MOA, told Del Valle, “I don’t know anything about those videos. When [Mauro’s] quoting his source, that information is garbage. Whatever they’re saying is not happening with us. It’s not.”
Fox News has mentioned the most recent plot against Islamberg just once, during a brief January 23 headline segment on America’s Newsroom.
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