You and I might call them violent felons who got lucky: armed robbers, murderers, and airplane hijackers from the 1960s and 1970s who found a warm welcome in Fidel Castro’s Cuba when they managed to escape there. Eugene Robinson, assistant managing editor of the Washington Post has a different name for them: “exiles.”

Yes, that’s the title of a feature-length article by Robinson in yesterday’s Washington Post Magazine that drips with sympathy for these much-maligned characters who shot cops and civilians (or drove the getaway cars and otherwise abetted those who did) and otherwise terrorized their way down to Fidel’s socialist paradise three decades ago. The reason that Gene (along with a raft of goofy Euro-liberals who send these folks money) loves ’em: They’re ex-Black Panthers or members of similarly named and aimed organizations. They weren’t common criminals. They were freedom fighters.

Here’s how Robinson describes the ex-Panthers and others he met while on reporting trips to Cuba:

“I’ve come to see them as individuals who have regrets — ‘I don’t make mistakes like other people; I make full-blown blunders,’ one told me — but who still generally describe their actions as political rather than criminal.”

Meet the blunderbusses: 

–Joanne Chesimard, now known around Havana as as Assata Shakur. A member of the Black Liberation Army, Chesimard/Shakur was convicted of the 1973 murder of a New Jersey State trooper. A bunch of her fellow liberationists disguised themselves as visitors to the prison where she was confined,  pulled weapons, took hostages, and freed her. As Robinson describes it, that was “an unforgivably audacious act, the kind that law enforcement officers take as a personal insult.” Chesimard/Shakur was for years a celebrity of the left, and adoring pilgrims from Stockholm and elsewhere flocked to Cuba to sit at the feet of the audacious gal.

–William Lee Brent. This ex-con and ex-Panther’s claim to fame was that “for a brief time he was even Eldridge Cleaver’s bodyguard — and that makes him revolutionary royalty.” Brent told Robinson, he had robbed a gas station near San Francisco, shot and wounded the two police officers who pursued him, and then hijacked a plane to Cuba at the point of a .38. You and I might call that terrorism. Gene Robinson calls it “an unexpected layover in Havana.” Cute. no?

–Charlie Hill. In 1971, he and two buddies decided to mount an armed revolution and found the black-separatist Republic of New Afrika. They were three black men “with big Afros and bigger attitudes,” gushes Robinson. While driving through New Mexico with a trunk full of weapons and explosives, they were stopped by a state trooper–so they killed him. What would you do? Then they hijacked a truck, holding a gun to the head of the driver, forced him to drive to the airport and through an airport fence, and hopped on a plane just before departure so they could hijack it. No big deal, says Robinson:

“In 1971, hijackings were common enough that there was a more-or-less standard protocol: If the hijackers agreed to free the passengers, the crew would fly them where they wanted to go.”

And so, Robinson writes of Hill:

“He is now my friend.”

My friend the cop-killer. Anyone who thinks that radical chic died 35 years ago, when Tom Wolfe wrote his famous article about Panther-stroking intellectuals in New York, ought to thnk again.

“You can’t go home again,” writes Robinson, quoting Thomas Wolfe of course. All of the “exiles” are in fact terrified that when Castro goes to the Great Soviet in the Sky, Cuba’s next government will shuffle these aging political martyrs–there are about 70 of them–out of Havana and back to the States, where they’ll be promptly clamped back into the prison cells where they belong. I, for one, can’t wait.