The tech entrepreneur who founded Trump’s go-to TV news network

Second of two tales

20 years earlier than Robert Herring Sr created the far-right TV channel One America Information Community, he discovered {that a} circuit board manufacturing unit he owned was beneath an FBI investigation.

It was 1994. In retaliation, a court docket judgment reviewed by Reuters exhibits, Herring fired an worker who informed the Federal Bureau of Investigation about unlawful air pollution on the plant.

Final 12 months, a jury dominated that OAN fired a Black producer in retaliation for submitting a racial discrimination grievance to Herring. The jury awarded the person $1.1 million.

The episodes present a window into Herring’s pugnacious fashion and impatience with authorities regulation. A Reuters evaluate of 33 court docket instances, many not beforehand reported, and interviews with two dozen associates reveal how the person working a once-obscure information channel made a fortune from scratch and got here to play an outsize function in American politics.

Since November, Herring’s OAN has turn out to be a number one TV purveyor of false claims that the 2020 election was rigged in opposition to former President Donald Trump, serving to gas new voting restrictions and a wave of threats in opposition to election officers in a number of states.

The data and interviews depict Herring as a hard-driving government with a knack for prescient timing. The court docket information, which embrace a federal air pollution indictment in opposition to one in every of his former firms, additionally reveal a person vulnerable to alleging conspiracies and fascinating in scorched-earth litigation.

In a uncommon interview Wednesday, Herring informed Reuters that criticism from former workers and Trump opponents doesn’t faze him. In actual fact, he stated, he appreciates the eye.

“Not less than we’re making progress, the place we’re getting on the market,” Herring stated. “We’ve to be on the market and be identified if we’re going to reach this enterprise.”

Herring’s journey is in some regards the American dream: a highschool dropout who loathed and later modified his given identify, then developed from a businessman of modest means to a sharp-eyed entrepreneur who noticed alternatives others missed. Now, at 80, he sits atop an influential community on the middle of a virulent nationwide debate over politics and alternate realities.

“This man used to drive a concrete truck,” stated Las Vegas entrepreneur Dennis Pierce, 60, who views Herring as a father determine. “He’s only a regular man who busted his ass, by no means stopped working, by no means stopped imagining how it will all end up.”

AMERICAN STORY: Robert Herring Sr constructed a fortune and a TV community, however his companies additionally confronted an environmental indictment and labor lawsuits, Reuters discovered. Jamie Scott Lytle/REUTERS

‘Plots revealed’

Like his favourite president, Herring runs a lean household enterprise together with his sons, Charles and Robert Jr. He too lives together with his third spouse, a Russian immigrant, in an 11,000-square-foot Southern California mansion perched on two manicured acres with sprawling views.

Regardless of his wealth, Herring shares demographic traits with many Trump base voters. He got here of age in Nineteen Fifties America. He lives in San Diego County, a area with a powerful army presence and a close-to-the-border perspective on immigration. His views on China are formed by a long time of competing in opposition to Asian factories with low cost labor and lax regulation.

Although a conservative for the reason that Nineteen Seventies, Herring has occasionally donated to Democrats, together with $4,600 to Hillary Clinton in 2007. Citing free-speech rules, Herring gave $15,000 to assist rescue a 2004 college speak by leftwing filmmaker Michael Moore after the general public faculty withdrew funding. Underneath oath, Herring stated he as soon as voted for Barack Obama for president. Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of his household’s almost $500,000 in contributions has flowed to Republicans, and on OAN, liberals and Democrats are routinely lampooned.

Herring shares a few of Trump’s aptitude for present enterprise. Like Trump, Herring has invested in Las Vegas lodge tasks and promoted fights with boxing’s Don King. Herring trademarked the phrases “Political Plots Revealed” and “Fringe of Hazard” for OAN program titles.

“If I feel I’m proper, I simply go for it. … Battle it to the very finish.”

On his community, folks arrested through the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol are dubbed “political prisoners,” a meme that has gained extensive use on the American proper. The far-right Proud Boys, a violent group whose leaders have been charged within the riot, are described as a “conservative males’s membership.” OAN correspondents have solicited greater than $600,000 to fund “personal” audits of the 2020 election. When OAN airs pro-Trump information, the ex-president usually returns the favor.

“One America Information (OAN), one of many quickest rising networks on tv, and the ‘hottest,’ is doing an impressive job of exposing the large fraud that befell,” Trump stated in Could.

Herring informed Reuters he doesn’t consider Joe Biden was legitimately elected, regardless that a sequence of audits and recounts have affirmed the Democrat gained the election. Herring has barred OAN workers from calling him “President Biden” on air till additional audits are accomplished. “I’ve seen sufficient that I do know the election was taken by pressure,” Herring stated; no credible proof has proven that to be true.

Reuters has reported on a sequence of threats nationwide in opposition to election officers who affirmed Biden’s win. Herring stated he was unaware of the threats. “I feel all folks engaged on elections needs to be handled properly, however there’s loads of pretend stuff happening, too,” he stated.

Duncan L. Hunter, a U.S. congressman from San Diego from 1981 to 2009, stated Herring needs to be feted for offering constructive information about Trump that the mainstream media fails to report.

“Mr. Herring represents the perfect of all of America as a result of he’s a man who utilized his cash and sources in a vital method, which is giving info to the American folks,” stated Hunter, a Republican and an avid OAN viewer. “His service to his nation has been monumental.”

Critics, together with eight former workers interviewed by Reuters, painting Herring as an opportunist exploiting the present political divide.

“Their main motivation is certainly not politics – it’s cash,” stated Martin Golingan, an OAN producer for almost 5 years till April, when he was fired after publicly saying he fearful his community’s programming doubtless performed a task in stoking the Jan. 6 Capitol assault.

“The Herrings run OAN on this McDonald’s enterprise mannequin the place you retain the shopper comfortable and the enterprise runs itself. If the purchasers occur to be loopy conspiracy customers, then that’s what they’re promoting. They’re grifters within the outrage tradition,” Golingan added.

Herring known as Golingan “very educated” however added, “he’s a liberal. He lastly went overboard and I needed to let him go.”

Herring has testified in litigation that he created OAN “to earn money, primary.” He seized the possibility after AT&T executives informed him the market might use one other conservative community, he testified. Additional testimony exhibits AT&T’s DirecTV cope with Herring supplied 90% of OAN’s income. AT&T stated it has “by no means had a monetary curiosity in OAN’s success and doesn’t ‘fund’ OAN.”

One America Information is among the many many entities that pay Reuters to publish the information service’s tales, movies and footage.

The court docket and regulatory information reviewed by Reuters, together with microfilm data relationship to 1977, are crammed with 1000’s of pages of testimony by Herring and former workers. The fabric is so voluminous partly as a result of the OAN founder hardly ever settles lawsuits however takes instances to trial, even when doing so might price him extra in authorized charges than the opposite facet is searching for.

“My case was a nickel-and-dime state of affairs,” stated former OAN producer Paul Levikow, who gained $22,000 in a wage dispute, plus $50,000 in authorized charges. “He would slightly spend his cash to struggle one thing he is aware of he’s going to lose than pay somebody off to make it go away.”

Considered one of Herring’s largest court docket losses got here final 12 months, when a Black former producer, Jonathan Harris, gained the $1.1 million verdict. “The idea of our case was easy,” lawyer Rodney Diggs stated. “My shopper was fired the day after he filed his racial discrimination grievance.”

In court docket filings, Herring stated he did nothing incorrect in both case. He stated Levikow was paid pretty and Harris was fired for poor efficiency and for deleting firm laptop information. Levikow and Harris disputed these contentions.

Herring was as soon as requested in a 2012 deposition why he continues to litigate even when a settlement would price much less.

“As a result of if I consider I’m proper, I’ll go to the top,” he replied.

It’s a trait Herring developed as a boy.

A boy named Alson

SCHOOL DAYS: Herring in highschool, in a photograph posted on Classmates.com

Born in 1941 in rural Louisiana, he cringed at his given identify: Alson Shelby Herring.

Alson sounded female, an excessive amount of like Allison, and as soon as landed the boy in women’ gymnasium class, amongst different indignities. Court docket and faculty data present that Herring rebelled and commenced calling himself Robert or Bob. He didn’t legally change his identify till 2005.

The sting by no means wore off. In 2019, Herring tried to keep away from revealing his start identify throughout a deposition. When compelled to reply, he cited the torment of the child in Johnny Money’s music, “A Boy Named Sue.”

As a reminder of his roots, Herring retains an image of the single-room home the place he spent his earliest years, near the cotton fields of northeastern Louisiana. “I used to be born in a barn,” he stated.

When he was about seven years outdated, the household moved to a farm close to Bakersfield, California. “We have been actually poor,” Herring stated. “For a time, we lived in a practice boxcar.” Later, the household moved to post-war suburbs close to Los Angeles.

Herring’s father died when he was a youngster, and he dropped out of highschool. He stated he give up following a dispute in which he refused an order to wash the flooring with a toothbrush as punishment for a minor infraction he’d dedicated. “I simply left,” he stated.

He earned an grownup night-school diploma, however didn’t attend faculty. He married his first spouse at age 18; by age 24, the Herrings had 4 youngsters. Herring labored as a chauffeur and owned a number of pet outlets. “I acquired paid for educating folks find out how to groom poodles,” he stated. Herring stated he found that folks in gross sales made extra money, and had extra enjoyable, so he switched careers. He started promoting circuit boards.

His first massive break got here in 1972, after he turned 30.

In a shrewd lease-purchase deal, he acquired a struggling native circuit board manufacturing unit and renamed it Industrial Circuits.

The circuit board market was enormous as a result of nearly each electronics system, from a thermostat to a rocket, requires them. Very similar to the inspiration for a home, a circuit board is often a inflexible, custom-made sheet of insulating materials that serves as a platform to attach elements of digital methods, comparable to semiconductors, resistors and capacitors. The manufacturing course of is complicated, requiring as many as 100 steps to manufacture one circuit board.

“Southern California was a hotbed for circuit boards again within the day and Herring had nice timing,” stated Mike Buetow, editor of the commerce publication Circuits Meeting.

By 1974, Herring was profitable sufficient that the native Escondido Instances-Advocate ran a profile titled “Little Man Comes Full Circuit.” Herring was described as profiting from “this land of alternative,” and he attributed his success to “the willingness to take an opportunity, that and luck.”

Nonetheless, he remained a person of comparatively modest means, filings from his 1977 divorce together with his first spouse present. She drove a Volkswagen and their house had lower than $70,000 in fairness. Their most precious property have been shares of firm inventory, about $80,000 in her identify and $152,000 in his.

Discovering gold

Herring’s facet pursuits – present enterprise and politics – started to generate headlines within the late Nineteen Seventies. He helped revive a civic live performance sequence, hiring nostalgia performers Helen Reddy and Ricky Nelson, briefly owned a weekly newspaper and joined the native Chamber of Commerce board.

He developed a behavior of appearing on information gadgets that intrigued him. In 1981, he learn that then-President Ronald Reagan’s son, Michael, a salesman for a protection contractor, give up his job after reviews that he dropped his father’s identify in letters to army officers. Herring made some calls and employed Michael Reagan as a salesman at Industrial Circuits.

MAKING A CONNECTION: Herring as soon as employed Michael Reagan, son of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, as a salesman for one in every of his firms. REUTERS/Chris Keane/File Picture

“It was very good of him to succeed in out as a result of it was a really robust time for me,” stated Reagan, now a columnist for OAN competitor Newsmax.

In 1988, shortly after his forty seventh birthday, Herring struck gold. He bought Industrial Circuits to the Japanese agency Toppan West Inc for $52 million.

A 12 months later, Herring created a brand new circuit board firm, Herco Know-how, with sons Robert Jr and Charles as co-owners. They constructed a brand new manufacturing unit in San Diego County and started working.

Circuit board manufacturing generally is a soiled course of, creating wastewater saturated with heavy metals, together with copper. Underneath its allow, Herco pledged to deal with poisonous waste earlier than flushing it into town therapy system that discharges into the Pacific Ocean.

FBI probe

In 1994, state court docket data present, a Herco worker repeatedly informed supervisors the ability was illegally flushing copper. Late that 12 months, data present, FBI brokers and metropolis investigators visited the Herco manufacturing unit and the worker at his house.

In 1995, an FBI agent known as Herring to ask in regards to the environmental violations. State court docket data present Herring agreed to fulfill on the FBI’s workplace, arrived with out a lawyer, informed brokers he was unaware of the issues and handed a lie detector take a look at.

Two weeks later, Herring fired the worker who spoke to the FBI. The person sued Herco for retaliation and a jury awarded him $78,400 in damages.

Herring stated the federal government was searching for to point out the general public it was making an attempt to guard the setting. “They have been in search of somebody sufficiently big to get somewhat consideration however sufficiently small to tackle, and I suppose that was us,” he stated.

The FBI investigation continued. So did the air pollution.

INSPECTION NOTES: A 1997 San Diego County inspection report particulars environmental points at Herring’s firm.

In June 1997, a resident close to Herring’s manufacturing unit known as 911 to report “a yellow cloud” spewing into the air amid a launch of nitric acid. A San Diego County inspector discovered “a darkish brown sludge” masking a hazardous waste containment space. The inspector’s report famous “1000’s of gallons” of improperly saved waste.

“It seems that it’s normal working process inside Herco … to permit the spillage of hazardous supplies and waste with out requiring correct clear up,” the inspector wrote.

In November 1997, following a federal grand jury indictment, Herco pleaded responsible to at least one air pollution depend and agreed to pay a felony positive of $170,000. Herring’s firm continued to obtain air pollution violation notices from the county for almost three extra years, for releasing copper, cyanide and silver into the setting.

ENVIRONMENTAL CHARGE: The opening web page of the federal indictment in opposition to Herco Know-how.

Nonetheless, Herring prospered. He stored a yacht moored in San Diego harbor and owned 4 houses, data present. He invested $4 million in a live performance venue at a Las Vegas on line casino resort run by one of many Republican Celebration’s greatest benefactors, the late Sheldon Adelson, stated two associates concerned.

Pierce, the Las Vegas businessman who considers Herring a mentor, stated the OAN founder is as comfy with a mogul like Adelson as he’s together with his gardener. Pierce would know, he stated, as a result of he met Herring whereas working because the landscaper for the entrepreneur’s houses and factories within the Nineteen Nineties. They quickly grew to become mates and enterprise associates.

“We’d hang around, put our toes up, drink a few Coronas, then we’d trip his jet skis,” Pierce stated. “He’s identical to your neighbor, besides he ended up wealthy.”

Herring divorced his second spouse in 1997. Underneath the settlement, he gave her the cat, the canine, the Mercedes and $1 million. The deal included an additional $600,000 if she vacated their house inside a 12 months.

Large deal, massive lawsuit

The know-how dot-com growth of the Nineteen Nineties fueled brisk gross sales within the circuit board trade. However competitors loomed from Asia, the place labor-intensive circuit boards might be constructed cheaper, environmental guidelines have been lax, and governments backed factories.

“It grew to become a really robust, aggressive setting,” stated Matthew Holzmann, an trade veteran. “The Herrings might see the writing on the wall.”

In 2000, the Herrings bought Herco and a associated firm for $122 million in inventory to publicly-traded Teradyne Inc, a worldwide electronics firm primarily based close to Boston.

However then Teradyne’s inventory plummeted by about half in a single 12 months – and the $122 million fell to about $61 million. The Herrings sued, alleging Teradyne executives misled them throughout negotiations by saying the long run regarded promising.

“We have been shorted,” Robert Herring Jr stated years later in a deposition. Teradyne denied any wrongdoing, saying the corporate correctly disclosed its funds earlier than the deal and that market circumstances merely shifted. The deal coincided with the beginning of the dot-com bust.

The Herrings misplaced their lawsuit in opposition to Teradyne, then filed a grievance in opposition to their very own legal professionals, alleging they’d missed a deadline, however misplaced once more. Inside two years, Teradyne closed the plant and laid off most former Herco staff.

‘Tantrums and meltdowns’

In 2000, at about age 59, Herring married his third bride, a Russian nationwide half his age. A short time later, with a ton of money, massive plans and no community expertise, he entered the TV enterprise.

Herring and sons created WealthTV, a luxurious life-style channel with exhibits about unique automobiles, big yachts, opulent journey and positive wine. Herring purchased a 40,000-square-foot constructing, constructed state-of-the-art studios and assembled a workers. Two key hires: a basic supervisor to run operations and an government to promote WealthTV to cable and satellite tv for pc suppliers.

As basic supervisor, Herring employed Dean Harris, an affiliate within the Las Vegas on line casino enterprise.

Harris, a former inventory dealer, was a convicted felon barred from buying and selling by the Securities and Change Fee, data reviewed by Reuters present. In 1999, Harris pleaded responsible to fraud, and the SEC stated he acquired $1.3 million in kickbacks in a conspiracy to steal from an insurance coverage firm. Herring employed Harris a couple of 12 months after he completed serving a 32-month federal jail sentence and gave him a 5% stake in WealthTV, court docket data present.

In an e-mail to Reuters, Harris stated his felony conviction was unrelated to Herring in any method and that he didn’t inform Herring about it on the time. Herring stated he didn’t find out about Harris’ jail time period till a Reuters reporter informed him. “I can’t consider it.”

To promote WeathTV to cable and satellite tv for pc suppliers, Herring lured Donna Thomas, an skilled TV government. “We didn’t know actually something about promoting the community, so we employed her,” Herring stated. “She knew all people within the trade.”

Thomas, who give up after eight months and sued Herring, declined to remark. Her lawsuit contended Herring went behind her again to purchasers, belittled her and acted unethically.

“My case was a nickel-and-dime state of affairs. He would slightly spend his cash to struggle one thing he is aware of he’s going to lose than pay somebody off to make it go away.”

“Some purchasers expressed anger and demanded that I again off for durations of months as a result of incursions of Mr. Herring,” Thomas stated in a sworn assertion reviewed by Reuters. “On many events his provides to purchasers have been offensive to them and unprecedented within the trade.”

The provides, meant to assist land WealthTV on cable or satellite tv for pc channels, included playing chips, lobsters and a sports activities automobile, two former workers stated in affidavits. In a deposition, a satellite tv for pc government confirmed he was provided the automobile.

In sworn statements, three former workers stated they witnessed Herring return from lunch inebriated after which slam doorways, yell and, occasionally, make workers, together with Thomas, cry. “Herring would have tirades, mood tantrums and habits meltdowns,” Thomas said. “The end result was a gradual stress of hysteria and worry.”

Herring’s legal professionals stated there was no proof his lunch wine ingesting affected his work, calling it “merely irrelevant to any problem on this case.” Herring stated he drinks wine generally at lunch, however only one glass. His legal professionals stated Thomas give up as a result of she didn’t sustain with Herring’s aim of closing offers quicker; she disputed that rivalry.

At trial, Thomas gained about $95,000, together with authorized charges. However for six months, Herring refused to pay the judgment. He did so solely after Thomas’ lawyer positioned a lien on WealthTV and threatened to have the sheriff’s division seize the community, data present.

“The concept that a company working a tv station would play a sport of hen like that on a set matter was actually puzzling,” stated Thomas’ lawyer, Benjamin Pavone. “I bear in mind pondering, ‘Who is that this weirdo?’”

Herring stated he can’t recall particulars of the judgment.

GLOVES OFF: Charles and Robert Herring signed a cope with Don King (middle) in 2011 to air boxing on WealthTV. Through PR Newswire

‘Don’t get mad … get even!’

WealthTV struggled to win offers with main cable and satellite tv for pc methods. In 2005, a annoyed Herring issued a press launch wherein he stated he had invested “tens of thousands and thousands of {dollars}” in WealthTV, however alleged that cable operators have been “saving their channel house for brand new Sports activities, Homosexual, Overseas Language, Pornographic or Buying Channels.”

By 2007, WealthTV was carried on cable methods representing lower than 10% of U.S. houses. That amounted to a possible viewers of maybe 10 million, usually not sufficient to attract curiosity from nationwide advertisers, data present. Herring couldn’t get some main methods to air WealthTV on a free trial foundation, data present.

So, Herring launched a authorized assault in opposition to 4 of America’s six largest cable firms to attempt to pressure them to hold WealthTV.

On the Federal Communications Fee, Herring alleged that Cox, Comcast, Vibrant Home and Time Warner Cable refused to air WealthTV as a result of it competed in opposition to a life-style community the cable firms co-owned. Herring informed Reuters he believed this amounted to collusion, elbowing out smaller networks like his. The cable suppliers denied this.

Throughout a 10-day FCC listening to, cable executives testified that they rejected WealthTV for good-faith enterprise causes, citing restricted bandwidth for high-definition channels, comparable content material on better-branded channels and the Herrings’ inexperience with tv.

“Backside line, good product, not value an HD channel spectrum after we can see loads of movies of rich journey places and nice eating places on Journey and Meals TV,” one cable government testified. “And most significantly, no buyer demand.”

FLAGSHIP: The One America Information Community, headquartered in San Diego, has seen viewership rise because it devotes protection to Donald Trump’s election falsehoods. REUTERS/Mike Blake

The Herrings pursued the case for 5 years, till March 2013, when an appeals court docket affirmed the FCC’s determination in favor of the cable operators.

Two days after the ruling, WealthTV anchor Graham Ledger took the stage on the annual Conservative Political Motion Convention, a significant gathering of conservative Republicans. Ledger introduced the start of One America Information, an antidote to the “liberal mainstream media.”

OAN would debut on July 4, 2013, he stated.

“That is going to be your community,” Ledger informed the gang of conservatives. Citing a line from the 1978 film Animal Home, he stated, “Don’t get mad … get even!”

Kinship with Trump

In June 2015, when Trump launched his White Home bid, Herring found a soulmate. Right here was a candidate with whom he agreed on almost each problem vital to him: immigration, race, taxes, environmental regulation, local weather change and China’s commerce practices. Trump additionally understood that tv information was present enterprise.

“There’s nearly nothing you’ll be able to point out that I don’t agree with him on,” Herring stated. “Generally I don’t like the best way he says issues, however so far as his actions and every little thing he’s performed, I feel he’s even higher than I anticipated.”

Herring directed OAN workers to run Trump’s rallies reside with out interruption. The Herrings, beforehand mild donors, started showering Republican causes and candidates with money, data present, donating greater than $350,000 since Trump’s announcement.

ON MESSAGE: In the course of the 2016 marketing campaign, Donald Trump appeared on Sarah Palin’s OAN program. REUTERS/Screenshot

OAN nonetheless struggled to get the most important cable methods to air the conservative community, an issue Trump bemoaned in social media posts. Herring, too, railed particularly in opposition to his longtime nemesis, Comcast, which he’d battled earlier than the FCC, and which owns left-leaning MSNBC.

“Is Comcast’s ‘HATRED’ of the President the rationale why Comcast clients are denied entry to @OANN?” Herring tweeted on June 10, 2019.

A month later, when an argument erupted over OAN’s journalistic ethics, Herring seized the second to allege a tangled Comcast conspiracy.

It started when The Each day Beast reported that an OAN reporter was additionally writing tales for the state-owned Russian TV community Sputnik. That night, MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow featured the story on her present.

“We actually discovered as we speak that that outlet the president is selling shares workers with the Kremlin,” Maddow informed viewers. “Probably the most obsequiously pro-Trump rightwing information outlet in America actually actually is paid Russian propaganda. Their on-air U.S. politics reporter is paid by the Russian authorities to supply propaganda for that authorities.”

The OAN reporter, Kristian Rouz, issued a press release a short time later saying he wrote about 1,300 freelance articles for Sputnik, however has “by no means written propaganda, disinformation or unverified data.” A Sputnik spokesperson stated the OAN journalist stopped writing for the Russian outlet in 2019; Rouz didn’t reply to an emailed interview request.

Herring’s lawyer denied any relationship with the Russians and alleged a special conspiracy. On the time, he famous that Maddow’s report got here only a week after Charles Herring had once more visited Comcast about airing OAN. “This doesn’t look like a mere coincidence,” the OAN lawyer wrote. Comcast declined to remark.

On the time, an MSNBC lawyer defended Maddow’s commentary as each “considerably true” and protected free speech. However Herring filed a $10 million defamation go well with in opposition to Maddow, MSNBC and Comcast. A federal choose dismissed it, Herring appealed and, in a unanimous determination this August, misplaced once more.

As the loser, Herring’s firm was ordered to pay the opposite facet’s authorized charges and prices. An individual concerned stated Herring’s firm paid $520,000 to legal professionals for his community’s rival, Comcast.

To Herring, it was well worth the cash.

“If I feel I’m proper, I simply go for it,” he stated. “Battle it to the very finish.”

Trump TV: Wing Man

By John Shiffman

Picture modifying: Corinne Perkins

Artwork path: John Emerson

Edited by Ronnie Greene

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