Animal rights activists won’t be satisfied just to make everybody eat vegan food in all of its hexane-extracted soy powder glory. Their ideology holds, in the words of PETA cofounder and President Ingrid Newkirk, “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy,” so it shouldn’t surprise anybody that PETA sued Sea World claiming that whales are slaves and has waged a decade-plus war on the use of animals in the circus. The latest battle in that campaign is being waged in Los Angeles, where the city council is considering a ban on circus elephants.

While the activists are eager, they face serious trouble on another front — federal court. In an attempt to harass circus operator Feld Entertainment, a herd of activist groups sued the company. Feld won that case in the D.C. United States Court of Appeals, and a lower court’s ruling acknowledged a possible pay-for-play racket involving the corporate empire of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). According to a district court ruling, payments from the animal-rights groups to key witness Tom Rider totaled over $190,000 and were his “sole source of income” for part of the time.

Feld then sued HSUS and others (including two lawyers now with HSUS, Jonathan Lovvorn and Kimberly Ockene) under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), to seek redress against this alleged mob-like racket. A federal judge ruled in July that the lawsuit could go forward. Defending itself against the animal rights groups’ allegations cost Feld $20 million—Feld hopes it can recover attorneys’ fees as well as treble damages under RICO.

The animal rights crusade isn’t just aiming to ban us from eating cheese, eggs, and meat; it also wants zoo animals, performing animals, and (yes) even pets to be “liberated.” In the hope of achieving their utopia, animal rights activists sometimes use questionable and even extreme means. But every dog has its day—in court.