The Ruby Ridge Incident

I have a system when deciding on what to blog about and/or when.  I have a list of cases or people that have caught my interest at one time or another.  Then depending on my mood at the time I will do the research on a subject, taking pages and pages of notes and then at some point I will blog about one of those that I have prepared. Most of the cases are old ones that have fascinated me throughout the years and generally I know a lot about the case.  However that never stops me from looking for more information available or another side of a case.  The Ruby Ridge Incident falls into that category.  It is a case that I have seen numerous documentaries and movies on, as well as read a lot about.  It is also one of those cases that just makes my blood boil to think about it.  What makes this case a bit different for me today is that while I am sitting here writing this now, I am still in the process of making my notes.  It is not as if starting this early is going to necessarily allow me to publish this early.  It is still a long and tedious process.  Most blogs take a minimum of 3-4 solid and devoted hours of research and write. At this point I have probably spent twice that and I do not feel even close to being done.  This is one of the few cases in which every detail, no matter how small, seems to matter and make a point.  

The main event in Ruby Ridge Idaho occurred on August 21 and 22nd 1992 but it began in 1984 and some say it still lasts today.  In the end three people were killed and trials were held and a government cover-up exposed.  The sad part about it all is that it is uncertain that anything was learned in the process of it all.

In 1983 the Weaver family that eventually consisted of father, Randy, mother, Vicki, daughters, Sara, Rachel and Elisheba and son, Samuel, moved from Iowa to a secluded area in Idaho in part in order to home school their children.  Vicki was very religious and believed that the mountains were a save place to live.  They bought 20 acres of land in Ruby Ridge.  Their trouble began in 1984 when after losing a land dispute case with the Weavers, neighbor, Terry Kennison apparently sought revenge.  Kinnison wrote the FBI, the secret service and other agencies claiming that Weaver had threatened to kill the pope, the president and the governor.  He also claimed that Randy was a member of the Aryan Nations, a white supremacist organization.  In January of 1985 an investigation was started and the Weaver family was put on the national radar.  The FBI interviewed the Weavers and while they questioned Randy's association with Frank Kumnick, someone believed to be involved with the Aryan Nations, Weaver denied that neither he or Kumnick were members of the group.  The FBI and other agencies had classified the Aryan Nations as a terrorist threat but apparently believed Randy Weaver and it appears they found nothing substantial.  In February of 1985 Randy and Vicki filed complaints that their "personal enemies," presumably Kennison, were provoking government agencies to take action against them.  I was unable to discover if anything ever came from this complaint.  In May of 1985 Randy and Vicki personally sent a letter to President Reagan, indicating if he had received any threats that were attributed to them, they were not true.  It was later discovered that no previous letter had been received, however, in later years the letter the Weavers wrote would be used as evidence in attempts to show justification for government action.

In July of 1986 the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) were investigating Frank Kumnick.  An informant met Randy Weaver at an Aryan Nations meeting with Kumnick.  Neither were technically members and there is little information on how involved either seemed to be although later reports indicated that Kumnick was minimally involved and Weaver "even less so."  By October of 1989 Weaver had had a falling out with both Kumnick and the Aryan Nations but had met with the informant (posing as a friend and not telling his true identity) several times.  Agent says that in October Weaver sold him two sawed off shotguns.  By this time time it seems that informant had decided that neither Weaver or Kumnik were truly involved with the Aryan Nations. However, by the next month Weaver was tipped to the fact that he was an informant and ATF chiefs ordered there to be a cease contact apparently so the cover would not be blown.  But, in June of 1990 the agent did make contact with Weaver again and by all accounts attempted to get Weaver to be an informant for them and supposedly threatening to file charges against him for the shotguns.  Weaver declined and soon charges were filed.  There was a claim in the charges that Weaver was also a bank robber and had previous convictions.  An investigation years later discovered this had been used and also discovered it was false.  Randy Weaver did not have a criminal record what so ever, nor had he ever been considered to be involved in bank robbery.  Weaver proclaimed that he had sold the agent two legal shotguns and that if they were later sawed off it was not by him and that it was false charges.  I have been unable to discover if the shotguns were ever produced, nor if it was ever determined if they had been sawed off if it was before or after they were sold to the agent.  I do however find it suspicious that according to the agent they were sold to him in October and it took until June, supposedly after Weaver refused to cooperate in an investigation, for charges to be filed against him. Also suspiciously in December he was indicted for making and possessing illegal weapons but not selling them.

Soon after ATF agents posed as broken down motorists on the side of the road when they knew Randy and Vicki Weaver were in town and would be driving by. When they stopped to helped the supposed disabled motorists Randy was arrested on the weapons charge.  He was released on bail and was told his court hearing would be February 19, 1991.  In the meantime the judge assigned to the case appointed an attorney to the case as well as a probation officer.  The attorney stated he made several attempts to reach the Weaver's but never had contact with him.  Some attribute this to the fact that it was well known that Weaver already had a distrust of the government and the actions they were taking at this point was not helping him so he likely was not going to trust an attorney that the government had appointed to him.  Randy did however contact the probation officer as he was told, but when he did the probation officer did not have a file yet and told him he would contact him.  On February 5th his court date was changed from the 19th to the 20th.  The attorney once again tried to contact him.  On February 7th the probation officer sent a letter saying he now had the file and that court was on March 20th.  This issue caused a lot of problems as well as speculation.  Some believe that it was an innocent mistake of dates while others believe it was done purposely, if for no other reason than to "teach" Weaver a lesson that he should have cooperated with them.  At any rate it was widely believed that the only notice that Randy received was the one from the probation officer with the date of March 20th.  When he did not appear in court on February 20th a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.  Amazingly somehow it was the media who discovered the date that the probation officer had given him but when it was pointed out to the judge he refused to revoke the warrant and turned it over to the U.S. Marshals Department (USMD) to serve the warrant and arrest Randy for failure to appear.  It was said, at least later, that the USMD decided that they were not going to press serving the warrant until after March 20th to see if Randy appeared at that date.  However the U.S. Attorney's office called a grand jury on March 14th and without mentioning to them the date issue they issued an indictment on failure to appear.

Apparently around the time of his missed court date a full government file was created on Weaver.  In 1995 a Senate Committee created to investigation the entire case criticized this profile for many reasons.  For one all rumors and statements were placed in the file and never fully investigated, at least at that time, or updated when the information given as wrong.  So nothing seemed to be substantiated and it made Weaver appear more dangerous than he actually was.  There was also a psychological profile included by someone who had never, met or interviewed Randy Weaver, or anyone associated with him or in fact knew the true details of the situation at hand.  

Throughout all of this it appears that these agencies (ATF and USMD) as well as agencies that would come into the picture later were not sharing everything that they should.  USMD only knew that Randy had failed to appear in court to face an illegal weapons charge, they knew nothing of all the contact the ATF agent had with Weaver or the fact they attempted to have him become an informant.  By now Weaver is even more suspicious of the government and believes that even if he did show up for a trial on March 20th that he would not be given a fair trial.  He had even been told (by some sort of official) that if he lost at trial that he would lose his land, leaving his wife homeless and that the government would take his children.  This too was a false statement, and apparently, at least to Weaver, fed into his distrust of government.  And why would it not?  Here is a man who has all but moved to a mountain to live in peace with his family and suddenly he has nearly every government agency on him, first because of a simple land dispute that he was apparently in the right for, and then because according to Weaver he refused to be a "snitch."  There was absolutely no evidence against him doing anything illegal, aside from the sawed off shotguns that he disputed.  Yes, he had gone to some Aryan Nations meeting apparently but even by the words of those investigating the situation he played no role.  Think back to the Black List movements of earlier times where people who even spoke to someone who was suspected to be a Communist was interrogated and treated horribly.

So at this point Randy Weaver is refusing to leave the confines of his land and cabin.  His home was becoming just as he wanted it to be in the first place. He grew and hunted for his own food and they lived very meager lives and were good and fine with that.  From March to October of 1991 Weaver communicated with the USMD through third party people that agents themselves said were more shady and dangerous than Weaver ever was.  By October the AG decided they were no longer going to communicate that way and plans were made to capture and arrest Weaver.  In March 1992 surveillance teams set cameras in the area to record the Weaver residence.  They observed that Weaver and his family seemingly armed themselves when vehicles entered their property until they knew and recognized who they were.  

On April 18, 1992 talk show host Geraldo Rivera was filming for an episode and a helicopter flew over the area of the cabin.  The media reported to the USMD as well as the public that as they flew over the cabin shots were fired at the helicopter.  This too was added to the above mentioned "profile."  There were USMD agents near the area and were watching the cabin at the time who stated this did not happen.  Even the helicopter pilot denied that shots were fired.  However, this fact was used by the USMD and FBI in drawing up the most controversial, and there were many, document in this case.  It was called the "Ruby Ridge Rules of Engagement" (from here on known as ROE).  To add to this, even though it had been denied by federal officials the issues of shots being fired, in Randy Weaver's 1993 the U.S Attorney still attempted to use this against him.

On August 21, 1992 six USMD agents were sent out to scout the area and determine how and where they could ambush Weaver to arrest him.  They included Marshals Roderick, Degan and Cooper.  At some point Roderick decided to throw a rock at the cabin to see the reaction of the dogs owned by the Weavers.  Think about this.... USMD had been watching and taping the area for over six months.  They already knew that the Weavers were armed.  They also knew of Weavers feeling towards the government and they know or are led to believe that this man is so dangerous they have to figure out how to safely capture him and someone thought it was a good idea to throw something at the cabin and rile the dogs up.  Well, they got a reaction.  One of the dogs started barking and when they did Randy Weaver, his son Samuel and family friend, Kevin Harris, who had been staying with the family, exited the cabin to see what the dog was barking at.  Harris and Samuel went in one direction and Randy Weaver went another.  Harris later stated they did not expect to find agents, they had been hoping that the dog had seen an animal and the cabin was running low on food.  At some point agents met up with Randy and he retreated back to the cabin.  When the dog first reacted the agents too started to retreat but then hid in the wood and took what they said was "defensive positions."  At some point Harris and Samuel, with the dog, started heading back to the cabin and this is where the stories start to differ.  The only facts everyone agreed on was that by the end both Samuel Weaver and Agent Degan were dead.  Kevin Harris was also wounded.

Eventually Harris and the Weavers got back to the cabin, where they remained for the most part other than to retrieve the body of Samuel and place him in a guest cabin on the land near the main cabin and later prepare his body for burial.  They had no communication with any of the agents or agencies so the initial story given came from the surviving agents, Roderick and Cooper.  The story they went back and told was that Harris, Samuel and the dog had exited the woods and for some unexplained reason Roderick had shot the dog (something he apparently felt comfortable admitting but giving no real motive it seems) and that Samuel had then fired upon him.  Roderick and Cooper stated that Harris then shot Agent Degan before Degan could fire any shots and a firefight ensued to which Samuel and Degan had died.  Neither agent took, credit or blame as it was to shooting Samuel, who it was found later was shot in the back while he was retreating.  Based on this information the agencies involved now had to figure out what to do next.

At his own trial Kevin Harris stated his side of what happened.  He stated that as he, Samuel and the dog exited the woods the dog was alerted to the agents and had gone to them playfully as he did with the children. He stated at some point that Roderick did kill the dog to which Samuel returned fire, that Agent Degan amid his firing had shot Samuel in the elbow, at which time Harris began shooting and Degan was killed.  Then at some point as they were attempting to retreat to the cabin Samuel was shot in the back.  Of course this story, nor the evidence to prove who was telling the truth was not known.

In the end, using ballistic evidence Harris' story tended to be more truthful.  In fact, he was acquitted in the murder of Agent Degan on grounds of self defense. While Roderick and Cooper both stated Degan never fired according to ballistics (which apparently was easy because each person carried a different type of weapon) Degan in fact had fired 7 shots, more than any of the others involved.  Also, they did determine that one of Degan's bullets had indeed hit Samuel in the elbow and that it was Cooper who ultimately killed Samuel.

Now, obviously I am not going to sit and defend anyone per se and I do believe that Roderick and Cooper when down that hill and told whatever story they could to make themselves as well as their colleague in a better light, Cooper later admitted that everything happened so fast it was hard to tell who shot first and how many times, let alone where the bullets went. Part of that I do believe. I am sure that guns were firing, and firing fast and that this was over in a matter of seconds.  However, I do not believe the story that they believed Degan never shot his gun and that Harris killed him without being provoked.  Nor do I believe that Harris or Samuel fired the first shot.  Then again we have to remember that the only story agencies knew immediately was the story Roderick and Cooper told, or was possibly even told to tell.

At this point instead of the USMD working alone the area was now surrounded by hundreds of law enforcement agents from the FBI, the ATF, US Border Patrol, Idaho State Police, the county sheriff's department and even the National Guard was called in.  The FBI also called in a hostage rescue team as well as negotiators.  

On August 22, FBI snipers were sent near the cabin.  They were given "special rules" that agents later said they determined as a "green light to shoot on sight."  These so called "special rules" were those established in the Ruby Ridge Rules of Engagement (ROE).  Normally FBI standard rules for deadly force prevented them from firing to only situations in which it was self defense or in the defense of another.  The new rules said that if any adult was seen with a weapon and was not surrendering the agents could "and should" shoot to kill as long as children would not be harmed.  They stated that if any animal, specifically the dogs of the Weavers caused a danger they were to be taken out.  It later says that when dealing with children or any other third party not a resident of the cabin standard FBI deadly force rules applied.  So, here they go up the mountain and surround the cabin and land.  At some point Randy Weaver, his daughter Sara and Kevin Harris exited the main cabin and went to the guest cabin where the body of Samuel Weaver lay.  It was later said they were going there to prepare his body for burial.  As Randy Weaver was lifting the latch to the cabin he was shot in the back by FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi. Horiuchi later stated that he had intended to shoot Weaver in the spine but at the last second Weaver moved.  Kevin Harris was also shot.  The three began running and retreating back to the main cabin where Vicki Weaver was behind the door holding the door open as she held her baby daughter in her arms.  Horiuchi shot again at the door (apparently not knowing Vicki was behind it) and shot her through the door and in the face killing her nearly instantly. Since again there was no communication all agents knew was that both Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris had been injured. They did not know that Vicki had been killed.  Upon review on August 26th, the ROE was revoked.  The decision for this was unclear.  Many of the agents involved strongly disagreed with the ROE, or so they said at a later date.  It was reported that on August 24th FBI Deputy Assistant Director Daniel Coulson had made a memo with a list.  Among the list he had expressed his feelings on the situation.  He noted that the charges against Weaver were "bullshit," that no one had seen Weaver do anything and that on August 21 Samuel and Harris were simply seeing what the dog was barking at and was met with men in "camo" that shot his dog. 

Within a few days help came in the form of civilian negotiators who were able to talk to Randy Weaver and communicate with them.  At some time during this point they learned of the death of Vicki.  On August 30th Kevin Harris surrendered and the following day Randy surrendered with his three daughters.  Harris and Weaver were immediately arrested.  The children were put in the custody of relatives.  Harris was charged with murder but was acquitted for self defense after the ballistic evidence was presented.  Randy Weaver was acquitted on all charges, except for the original failure to appear charge and a charge of violating bail conditions and sentenced to 18 months and fined $10,000.  He apparently was never charged again for the original issue dealing with the sawed off shotguns!!  

Almost immediately the actions of the agencies were criticized but apparently action was not taken or seriously considered until after Harris and Weaver's trials.  The only benefit I suppose to this is that until that very end false and fictitious information was attempted to be used against Weaver and thankfully the jury did not buy it but it helped dig the attorneys and agencies involved a little deeper.  The Senate put together the Ruby Ridge Task Force to investigate the policy and conduct of all the agencies and employees involved.  Almost immediately they determined that the ROE were unconstitutional.  They also criticized nearly every agency for their handling of paper and the situation.  This was the first time that the "profile" started in 1991 was seen.  It was discovered then how much of the information was false and yet still used against Weaver. It was recommended that each agency has some discipline to hand out in abundance and to do their own internal investigations. 

Randy Weaver filed a wrongful death lawsuit in the deaths of Samuel and Vicki.  It was settled out of court in August of 1995 without any agency claiming misconduct.  Randy received $100,000 while his three daughters received $1 million each.  Kevin Harris also filed a civil suit against the agencies.  It was widely reported that the government had vowed to not pay a settlement to a man who had killed a government agent.  In September of 2000 Harris did receive $380,000.    

In 1997 the county DA filed charges against FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi and he was indicted for manslaughter.  The case was quickly moved to federal court to which attorneys dismissed charges citing sovereign immunity.  Sovereign Immunity is the law in which it prevent people from suing the government or government employees.  The ruling was appealed and over turned.  It was sent back to the county to which there was a new prosecutor who in 2001 decided to drop charges.  Amazingly there were attempts to re-charge Kevin Harris on murder charges but was dropped cited the double jeopardy rules.  

In October 1996 former FBI chief of violent crimes, E. Michael Kohoe,  pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for covering up the misconduct of those in his agency.  He was sentenced to 18 month in jail.

Nine years after the incident in January 2001 Assistant Attorney General made the final disciplinary decisions on the case which amounted to none.  Many have stated this is a clear case of double standards, especially referring to the FBI.  Many of the men involved retired without incident.  It appears a lot of "promoting" was going on moving those involved to upper positions in areas across the county, all the while making it appear they were investigating internally.  

In September 1992 a shooting incident Team reviewed the shooting of Vicki Weaver and found that it was justified.  

In November 1992 a shooting incident GROUP, headed by Kahoe, found no misconduct by FBI agents.

In June 1993 the Attorney General formed an inquiry team headed by Barbara Berman to look into things.

In September 1993 Agents Walsh and Van Harp were enlisted as Berman's lead assistants.

In January 1994 Walsh filed a report again stating that there was no FBI misconduct.

In June 1994 Berman filed her report.  She found the ROE "defective"  (Ya think???).  Concerning Lon Horiuchi it was found that the first shot he fired injuring Randy Weaver was justified, however the 2nd shot that killed Vicki Weaver was not.

**** Now... think this one over.  First the Senate at this point already found that the ROE was UN-constitutional hence partially why these investigations are taking place.  And here Berman comes along and simply calls them "defective."  Then, again, remembering that they have already been ruled unconstitutional and she herself said they were defective in turns says that the shooting of Randy Weaver was justified.  

In June 1994 the "Mathews Team" is formed to review the reports of Berman and Walsh.  

Also in June of 1994 the Department of Justice files a report still stating that the ROE are unconstitutional but rules that both shots fired by Horuchi were justified and no action was taken against him at that time.

On December 16, 1994 The Mathews teams recommends discipline for Agents Glenn (the on scene commander and who approved the ROE), Rogers and Kahoe.  They do not recommend discipline actions against Daniel Coulson or Agent Potts who had become the new acting Deputy Director.

On December 29, 1994 Assistant Director Coyle recommends action be taken against Coulson and Potts but recommends Potts be censured and not suspended.

In April 1995 Potts is censured but the very next month he is promoted to Deputy Director.

Apparently pretty ticked off that The Mathews Team recommended he be disciplined, in May of 1995 Agent Glenn sends a letter to the Department of Justice alleging a cover up by the Mathews Team and once again the DOJ begins an investigation.

In July of 1995 the DOJ recommends that a criminal investigation is done and in that same month Mathews is promoted.

In August 1995 a criminal investigation is headed by Michael Stiles. At this time both Potts and Coulson are put on administrative leave.

In October 1996 Kahoe pleads guilty and for some reason or another Walsh receives a bonus.

In December 1996 Walsh is promoted and moved to San Francisco and Kahoe retires.

****the man pleaded guilty two months prior and received a prison sentence for misconduct but apparently was still considered an employee of the FBI and was able to retire.  

In June of 1997 Mathews was promoted and moved to New Orleans.  Also at some point around this time Lon Horiuchi was indicted on manslaughter charges.

In August 1997 Michael Stiles finishes his report and recommends no further charges.  Also the DOJ recommends an administration investigation and Coulson retires ***was he still on administrative leave???

In March of 1998 Walsh retires.

In June of 1999 the DOJ files their final report and recommends that charges be brought against Agents Potts, Coulson, Walsh, Harp, and Mathews for misconduct. The Assistant Attorney General Stephen Colgate receives this and once again sends the report out to be reviewed.

In December 1999 Colgate gets that review back in which it all but states the same as the DOJ report except adding that Director Louis Freeh should also be charged.  He THEN sends it to another group of people who in October 2000 decide there was no misconduct.  So hence in January 2001 Colgate decides no further charges would be filed and no priors actions changed or rescinded.

Is it just me or does anyone else see a pattern here?  It appears that in the end every report that ever really stated that action should be taken against someone was reviewed and reviewed again and again until someone says no misconduct occurred and all is fine and let's move on our merry way!  And the above was just the actions of the FBI.... what about the other agencies involved, especially the USMD?  

One also has to wonder if these investigations were not brought about because beginning in February of 1993 and lasting until April 19, 1993 many of these agencies were once again involved in controversy.  This one involved the siege in Waco Texas involving the Branch Davidians where four federal agents were killed along with 82 members of the group. On top of all of this on April 19, 1995 Timothy McVeigh was responsible for the the Oklahoma City Bombing where 168 people were killed. It was said that while it was on the anniversary of the Waco killings, it was also connected to or in retaliation the Ruby Ridge incident. An argument could be made that the Ruby Ridge connection came about by accident.  While Ruby Ridge was already causing controversy, when Waco happened it just seemed like another incident of government agencies doing as they pleased. The initial investigations in Ruby Ridge did not start until after the trials of Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris, so after the Waco raids.  By this time there were many calls to bring federal agencies to justice.  It is conceivable that less investigation was put into the actions at Waco due to most considered the Branch Davidians a cult and looked down upon but in the case of Ruby Ridge this was one man and his family on a hill being surrounded by hundreds of agents from at least eight different agencies.  I suppose one could argue and give the government credit for picking the one that even on the surface looked as if less justification could be made.  In the same respect, it is likely they knew someone, somewhere had to answer to something and that Ruby Ridge gave them more of a case for scapegoats that citizens would accept. Randy Weaver, while all his actions were not considered to be correct, appeared as the most sympathetic of the two cases.  In the end the government could look to be the hero who would not accept even those in their employment doing as they pleased and causing death and destruction.  In fact, a look into government actions in Waco were not even considered until 1999, long after the Oklahoma City Bombing and just prior to things going quiet in the Ruby Ridge situation.  Agencies fiercely defended their actions in Waco.  I find it very suspicious that in August of 1999 Director Louis J. Freeh finally comes out and admits that the FBI had in fact used tear gas that could have caused the fires at Waco that killed many people and is suddenly ordering that a full investigation of the facts and circumstances be done and then two months it is recommended by a review board that he be charged for misconduct from Ruby Ridge.  This was in the last group that was reviewed again until no misconduct was found and no charges filed.  Of course not... he is now our hero, right?  

Ruby Ridge is one of those incidents that will likely truly never go away.  Sadly, while the incident does enrage me and I do believe the government overstepped their boundaries, it will always be used be radicals as a prime example as to how the government does things.  It is one of those things that you can argue little with.  Sure, Randy Weaver did not do things as he should have and had he done so it is likely that his wife, son and Agent Degan would be alive today.  However, who knows what he would have faced if he had attempted to fight only through the courts against the charges made against him. And, who is to say that when the government succeeded with him they would not have seen that as a green light to go after other.  So while all of his actions were not right and many paid the ultimate price for those actions, in a way Randy Weaver fought the government actions, that eventually exposed them for who they are, for all of us.




Comments

  1. The "sawed off" shotgun was a sawed-off buttstock. People who know about not cutting barrels too short typically are unaware that not only may the barrel not be shorter than 18", the overall length must not be less than 26".

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  2. I will admit that I am naive...I just cannot begin to comprehend how someone professing to be deeply involved as a believer in Christ would be in the Aryan Nation. I can't understand this and therefore do believe that the Weavers were set up and not involved in the hatred of aryan nation.

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  3. Susan Skinner, are you familiar with the Darlie Routier case? Just curious. I believe her to be guilty, there's just so many people who think she's innocent.

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  4. Yes, I am familiar with the Routier case and have often considered bl it comes to her guilt or, I am on the fence when it comes to her guilt or innocence so that makes it difficult to write about as it comes off as a lot of back and forth. One thing I can say is that I think she was railroaded with the video taken from the cemetery shown at trial as it was not shown in complete form.

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