The Look of a Warrior

Tony Bryant is a black militant, a hijacker, a survivor of Cuban prisons, and a Castro-hating commando. And don't you forget it.

So maybe you're sick of the snowbound Canadian winters. Maybe it's time to swoop south, like the geese. And maybe, just maybe, that Cuban Ministry of Tourism brochure A the one with blue sea lapping at unspoiled beaches and the lights of Old Havana twinkling A is beginning to look tempting. Why not? you figure. Considering the bargain rates, Cuba might be just the ticket. Where better to escape the hurly burly of modern capitalism than that beckoning finger of tropical communism?

There's but one snag in the itinerary, dear tourist. His name is Anthony Garnet Bryant, and he'd just as soon see you dead.

Dead as a doornail.
Dead as old man Lenin in his creepy tomb.
Or at the very least, spooked to high heaven.

The second you lay down one red cent in Castro country you're Tony Bryant's sworn enemy. And something worse: you're his target. "I've warned these tourists repeatedly," he sighs. "Repeatedly. Those who go down are taking their lives into their hands. If the Cuban people cannot enjoy those hotels and beaches, nobody's going to enjoy them."

Bryant knows a little something about Cuba. Back in 1969, he'll tell you, he viewed Fidel's kingdom as the solution to life in the United States of Whitey. An end to the racism, the never-ending dope charges, the Man. So he took a .38 revolver and chartered his own flight to Havana. But the Communists betrayed Bryant, threw him in prison, and tortured him for twelve years. He returned to the blessed soil of America a certified member of Miami's defiant exile community. He lectured, penned memoirs, dabbled in anti-Communist zealotry, and a year ago took up la causa around the clock.

His timing was exquisite. With Soviet Marxism buried, Fidel teetering, and rampant rumors of a pending drug indictment against brother Raul, Castro's paunchy paramilitary exile enemies have roused themselves from hibernation and commandeered the headlines. And to the Little Havana patriots who can recite his history, the 54-year-old Bryant A ex-drug-pusher, pimp, and Black Panther A has become a most unlikely chieftain.

As mouthpiece for the anti-Castro troop Comandos L, he has jacked the rhetoric to new heights, vowing to lead attacks on Cuba and virtually daring the U.S. government to bust him for Neutrality Act violations. The FBI blustered about just such a prospect months ago, but its probe of Comandos L has so far yielded no indictments. Last fall federal prosecutors did try Bryant for illegally possessing a gun during a Fourth of July Comandos L foray into Cuban waters. They failed, laughably, and the case merely emboldened the defendant, who now broadcasts his intentions to fell El Tirano by targeting the tourist resorts that subsidize Cuba's starving economy.

"I don't feel bad if these people who support my enemy, mankind's enemy, are hurt or killed," Bryant insists quietly. "We're at war. This is not a game." He straightens his official Comandos L beret, the one with the silver star for Justice. He slips on a pair of oversize sunglasses, and behind these his eyes search A as they have all his strange life A for the reverent gaze afforded a true warrior.

The 50th skyjacking in U.S. history began just after 2:00 a.m. on March 6, 1969, when a lone gunman burst into the cockpit of a National Airlines 727 and demanded that the plane change course to Havana. The pilot, bound for Miami from New York and cruising at 35,000 feet, was in no position to argue. Particularly with a .38 revolver to his temple.

Tony Bryant was, by his own account, "black and bitter, armed, desperate and dangerous, at war with the United States." And he was losing, badly. An ex-con at 31, already he had been arrested a dozen times on charges ranging from armed robbery to narcotics possession. Bright and sensitive, a natural musician, he'd been a good student during his youth in San Bernardino, California, outside Los Angeles. But he'd also borne the brunt of his parents' bitter divorce, spending a year in foster homes before returning to live with his father and new stepmother. Bryant dropped out of high school as a junior and at seventeen, joined the air force where he was introduced to the joys of mainlining heroin. He was discharged at nineteen. From there the crime spiral began. He spent most of his twenties behind bars, suffered a broken marriage, made too little money playing jazz sax and flute, and became involved with the San Francisco Bay Area's raging Black Power movement.

Bryant says he diverted the plane to Cuba on orders from higher-ups in the Black Panthers. His mandate was to convey a request for heavy arms to Celia Sanchez, Fidel Castro's personal secretary and confidante. Thus would begin the violent overthrow of White America. Bryant believed hijacking an American jet would make him a hero in Cuba, toasted by diplomats, and allotted his own harem. Such was the scuttlebutt among his radical comrades.

And as he stepped down from his hijacked plane, all elements of the fantasy appeared to be in place. A line of military personnel greeted him on the tarmac of Havana's Jose Marti International Airport. The sergeant-at-arms threw his arms around Bryant in an embrace frozen for posterity by a dozen flashbulbs. Then the hijacker was led away from the floodlights and into the shadows, where two beefy officers hammerlocked him and wrestled his gun away.

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