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The lunge for the jugular is most apparent in the ads. Since firearms cannot be sold through the mails, weapon manufacturers offer only catalogs to readers. But enough lethal ware, from blowguns to exploding arrows to mini-garrotes, can be bought to fend off any guerrillas who might happen to invade your backyard. Budding adventurers can bone up on techniques by ordering Get Even: The Complete Book of Dirty Tricks ("You'll never again have to 'grin and bear it' when inconsiderate creeps do you dirty"; $12.95) while sipping coffee from a Soldier of Fortune mug ($7.95) and relaxing on a military cot ($99.50). The classifieds bristle with notices from mercenaries, some less discreet than others (MERC FOR HIRE, advertised a man named Dan. NEED WORK FAST). Gung-ho types who apply directly to the magazine are warned that enlisting soldiers of fortune within the U.S. is against the law. Brown maintains, however, that he can publish the ads because he is merely acting as a conduit.
Brown's disavowals have not convinced everybody. In 1979 Democratic Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Soldier of Fortune was recruiting mercenaries. The probe turned up nothing illegal. Schroeder still criticizes the magazine for its "romanticization of war." Says she: "One country's mercenaries are another country's terrorists." One reason why the magazine has failed to ignite much opposition may be because few in Washington take it as seriously as Brown would like. Brown returns the compliment, saying the Central Intelligence Agency is manned by "hundreds of incompetents."
The magazine's readers are almost exclusively men, most of them between 18 and 34. Nearly half are servicemen, vets or law enforcement officers, according to a survey by Starch INRA Hooper, a New York research firm. Many readers seem to be Walter Mittys, content to experience danger vicariously. The magazine derives most of its revenue from circulation, but Brown is now pushing to attract big-name advertisers, including car and liquor companies. "It would be a hard sell for a media buyer," admits Advertising Manager Joan Steele. "The mercenary thing tarnishes our image."
The Folio: 400, the bible of the magazine industry, estimates that Soldier of Fortune's revenues dipped from $7.5 million in 1983 to $6.9 million last year, but Brown is confident enough to have launched two new magazines, Guns & Action and Combat Weapons, in the past year. He views the country's recent outbreak of Rambomania as proof that the climate is improving for his brand of journalism. Even though Soldier of Fortune is always certain to draw hoots of disapproval, the Colonel is not the kind to care. Ambling through the office in faded jeans and T shirt, cracking jokes with editors, squirting streams of chewing tobacco into strategically placed spittoons, Bob Brown is happy in his work. "I get to do things that nobody else can," he says. "Vacation for me is attacking a fort in Afghanistan." --By James Kelly. Reported by Richard Woodbury/Denver