This week a Virginia jury tossed a lawsuit brought by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) against the owner of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus. The animal rights group claimed (and ultimately failed to prove) that he engaged in a “massive conspiracy” to harm PETA — including infiltrating the group, monitoring its activities, and acquiring secret documents from inside PETA. In other words, PETA accused the circus of playing by PETA’s rules.

If infiltrating and spying on adversaries is the stuff lawsuits are made of, PETA had better hire a fleet of new defense attorneys. On one of its websites, PETA urges activists to “apply for a full-time position as an undercover investigator.” In one infamous 1997 case, Michelle Rokke (then a PETA employee) kick-started the violent campaign against a New Jersey medical research company by stealing 8,000 pages of documents and making 50 hours of secret video recordings during her “undercover” work.

PETA’s ring of spies has secretly surveilled other business that run afoul of the group’s “total animal liberation” ethic — including an animal shelter, a kosher slaughterhouse, a pet food company, and even circuses. And PETA’s vendetta against the Greatest Show on Earth includes targeting children who would otherwise actually enjoy themselves at the circus.

PETA began holding anti-circus protests at elementary schools back in 1996. This year the group has already interfered with kids at school, without their parents’ permission, in at least three states (click here and here for examples).

One mom in PETA’s home town had had enough this week after encountering PETA protesters (with a grisly propaganda video) outside a circus performance, as she entered with her 4- and 8-year-old daughters. In a letter to the Hampton Roads, VA Daily Press, she wrote:

Use freedom of speech to your advantage, but not at the expense of shattering the excitement of children who look forward to seeing animals perform. There are all types of cruelty in this world, and subjecting children to displays of protest during events like that is cruel. I do not agree with animal cruelty, but I do not appreciate what PETA has done. It hurt my children and subjected them to something they never should have seen.