“If the extremists prevail, they will be taking a big step toward their ultimate goal of a vegan society,” Sonoma Foie Gras farm owner Guillermo Gonzalez wrote in a letter to his fellow residents last week — a prelude to yesterday’s hearing on whether to ban the sale of foie gras (duck liver) in the Northern California town Gonzalez calls home. He’s absolutely right: a ban would only reward the violence and intimidation of animal rights fanatics. Gonzalez and his business partners have been attacked repeatedly.

Thugs who oppose the raising of animals for food covered the home of Gonzalez’s restaurant partner, chef Laurent Manrique, with red paint. They glued his locks and garage door shut, poured acid on his car, and vandalized his statue of the Buddha. They also left behind a videotape of Manrique and his family, apparently shot through a window as they relaxed in their home. A Sonoma police spokesman told KGO-TV News that a note accompanying the video read: “We are watching you. Stop or you’ll be stopped.”

Meanwhile, vandals broke into the partners’ unfinished restaurant, causing $50,000 in damages. And the terrorists at the Animal Liberation Front invited more violence by posting the home address of a third business partner on the Internet.

Above-ground activists have also targeted Gonzalez’s farm, breaking in and stealing four ducks. In response, Gonzalez has sued the unrepentant animal-right nuts, who call such raids a “moral obligation.” Columnist Debra Saunders calls it this way:

Animal-rights types oppose all meat production and would object to foie gras even if employees spoon-fed the ducks and took them for swims thrice daily. Dr. Francine Bradley, a poultry expert at the University of California/Davis, has been to Sonoma Foie Gras and has nothing but praise for the outfit.

But that won’t stop the chain of intimidation. Activists target one party and then target those who have ties to the party. Gonzalez receives threats; vandals attack his business. He starts a new business; the animal thugs harass his partners. And his partners’ families.

Gonzalez has been particularly outspoken — and courageous. He writes:

If they achieve their goal, the perpetrators will be sending the message that food production and consumption are no longer the choice of individuals, regulated by our governments and academia, but instead are dictated by anarchists who believe that animals are sentient beings with equal rights as humans on planet earth.

Animal-rights campaigns against foie gras are nothing new. In 1999 People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) enlisted the help of John Gielgud and Bea Arthur to persuade the Smithsonian Institution to cancel a foie gras tasting event. The Smithsonian eventually caved in, citing not animal-rights arguments but concerns over the safety of its guests. PETA successfully applied similar pressure to the Boston Symphony Orchestra a year later. Other activist groups including United Poultry Concerns and In Defense of Animals have waged similar jihads in recent years.