By Dennis Shook for   Published Aug 04, 2006 at 5:01 AM
Phil Runkel will be a long way from his Waukesha home when he walks into a federal courtroom in Alexandria, Va., Friday to be tried for failing to obey a lawful order.

But he realizes he will not be as far away as the conflict in Iraq that he opposes.

In an interview with WisPolitics, Runkel said he could face a maximum of  six months in jail and a fine of $5,000 for his war protest last March. But  he believes he needed to make a statement.

Runkel, 59, who works at Marquette University, was one of  about 51 war protesters who were arrested outside the Pentagon, out of a group of about 200, he said. They were seeking a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

They carried with them a coffin, marking all those who had been killed or wounded in the battles so far. Also among the group was Cindy Sheehan, who became known nationally for her anti-war protests outside President George W. Bush's vacation retreat in Crawford, Texas. Other state residents were also involved. All will be tried.

The group violated the law when they went over a temporary fence that had  been placed there to stop such protests.

Runkel understands it will be difficult to refute the charges. But he hopes the consequences will not be too severe. "In similar situations, some people have been let off on a technicality," said Runkel, who added he does not want to escape punishment in that way.

He mainly hopes for a brief opportunity to explain to the court why he was there and what he hoped to accomplish. "Compared with what some people have undergone, this is not too much,"  Runkel said of his possible punishment. But he admitted to having received  several hate letters.

Runkel said he became active in similar protests during the 1980s in protest of American activity in Central America. Yet even though he is old enough,  he was not a protestor during the Vietnam War while a graduate student at  Carroll College in Waukesha.

Runkel has also participated in the past in the weekly public protests against the war on Sundays in Waukesha's downtown Cutler Park. "I think that next month there will be a lot more protests everywhere to mark the anniversary of the war," Runkel offered.