Introduction


This portrait of the controversial "conscious teacher" Robert Earl Burton, founder of The Fellowship of Friends, stands in stark contrast to the cult's alluring
Living Presence and Ark in Time Network websites.

Much of the material presented here is derived from three primary sources:
The Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, and the Fellowship of Friends wiki project. Additional material comes from the editor's own 13-year experience in the cult.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Fellowship of Friends sues Yuba County over tax status

Robert Earl Burton Fellowship of Friends cult Goethe Room dinner, Apollo, Oregon House, CA
Robert Earl Burton leads a formal dinner inside The Fellowship of Friends Galleria. Source: Living Presence

"We do what we can when we can and would wish to do more as we can. We ask nothing in return as this is what community supporters do." - Fellowship of Friends President, Greg Holman, May 27, 2014
[ed. - see also: Group's tax refund shot down and Fellowship of Friends Request for Tax Refunds Based on Religious and Welfare Property Tax Exemptions]

From the Appeal-Democrat, September 25, 2014:
A Yuba County foothills organization is seeking a $600,000 property tax refund, claiming its worship center should not be taxed.

The Fellowship of Friends filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the county, asking for the refund and a declaration the center be protected through religious exemptions from future taxation.

Yuba County spokesman Russ Brown said Wednesday he would not comment on pending litigation.

The complaint filed in Yuba County Superior Court says the Fellowship was erroneously and illegally taxed between 2009 and 2013 when the county assessor refused to recognize the Fellowship's right to religious and welfare exemptions.

The Fellowship, headquartered at 12607 Rices Crossing Road, Oregon House, describes itself as a nondenominational church with principles based on "universal religious teachings that transmit the art and science of recognizing and experiencing a Divine Presence."

There are 1,600 members of the church in more than 30 countries throughout the world, according to information included with the petition. The central focus of the suit is a multi-use 5,600-square-foot building referred to as the Galleria, described as housing books, antiques, sculptures, tapestries, instruments, and other arts considered by followers to be vehicles for transmitting the immortal state of Divine Presence.
Read more at Appeal-Democrat.com


"Ames Gilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, September 26, 2014:
From the Appeal-Democrat article Tim linked to above (referring to ‘The Academy’) [now, The Galleria]:
… The Fellowship closed the property to the pubic and it now “remains exclusively a place of religious worship and ceremonial religious events.”
Ha, ha, ha!

Of course, I have no idea what the layout is now, but for many years after ‘The Academy’ was built, the north wing was devoted solely to the use of Burton, including the ‘emergency escape tunnel’ leading from under the floor of his bedroom. IIRC [if I recall correctly], there was also a TV/entertainment room, and certainly lots of storage for clothes and shoes. There was the brick-lined cellar where wine was stored, with enough space for two bedrooms used by the ‘boys’ in favor at the time. The south wing contained a kitchen, ‘Wordsworth dining room’, a library, and a couple of rooms decorated with Egyptian furniture, mostly used for Burton and small FoF [Fellowship of Friends] business meetings, where he gave out the day’s orders.

The main central part consisted of an ornately decorated entrance foyer, and the large events room. On the west side, there were large doors leading to a covered semi-circular portico area, the roof supported with pillars. This was used for outdoors dining, and from there steps descended to the enclosed, rather formal, rose garden.

So, the north wing was devoted solely to Burton’s comforts, and was the scene of many of his ‘religious events’ of a sexual nature. The south wing was also devoted to Burton’s comforts, though followers were invited to share in the dining experience and fruits of the kitchen from time to time (but now also transformed into a lucrative fundraising gig). The cellar held his collection of expensive wines and housed his sexual playthings of the moment. And the main center room was used for concerts and other events, including ’symposiums’ and more prodigious fund-raising.

In reality, pretty much the entire building centered on Burton and the attempt to satisfy his insatiable desires and proclivity for dominance and control.

Admittedly, there were a lot of possessions there, paintings by third-tier artists, gaudy (but always expensive) trinkets that happened to catch Burton’s eye, plenty of ormolu. In various places on the GF [Greater Fellowship] site are some photo updates since that time, including one of a fresco on the ceiling celebrating the rampant erection of a particular (and easily recognizable) follower—perhaps caught in a religious sexual ceremony that was particularly memorable for Burton. And there is always the oil portrait of Burton-and-dog as a reminder of the ‘brightest light in 2,000 years if one tires of the rest.

Back to the article. I remember the furor over the Yuba county tax claims on real property—which included the contents—this is usual. Abraham Goldman came up with the scheme to make it into tax-exempt museum. That left a small problem: it was actually mainly the luxurious residence of Conscious Bob. So, Dr. Ethan H., offered his splendid, just completed, residence half a mile away, to Burton (I have no idea what the quid pro quo was). Burton accepted, and the circus had its base there for a number of years, and Ethan rented another house in the meantime.

So the FoF applied for a permit to make it into a museum, ostensibly ‘open to the public’, which AFAIK [as far as I know] was a requirement for tax-exempt status. That didn’t sit well (one of the ‘onerous conditions’, I suppose; another may have been a requirement to upgrade the access road to the museum to make it fit for the public to use, I don’t know). Long story short, it didn’t suit the FoF to meet the conditions. Later, Ethan got his house back, and Burton returned to the Academy.

So now the FoF is making what seems to me to be a rather weak claim for a tax refund. This is odd, since they requested the change to ‘museum’ status in the first place. They didn’t meet the terms, which means the county taxed them in the meantime at the usual rate for the value of the building and the contents. Now the FoF wants a post-dated religious exemption. But, if the county wishes to look more closely, they will discover the reality: this is just another facet of the ongoing and illegal inurement. That is, the building is mostly used, IMO, for the pleasure of Robert Burton, not for the benefit of the members of the church, and should not have tax exempt status. Moreover the private use value to Burton should be added to his personal income and taxed as such.

[ed. - The following is apparently a message to Fellowship members from Girard Haven, who for decades has been Robert Burton's surrogate.]

"J.D." wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, September 29, 2014:
Message from the Whitman Glen Office [the Fellowship's business office]:
“Galleria property tax exemption effort”

Dear Friends,

We would like all of you to be aware of a legal action the Fellowship initiated earlier this week. A suit was filed against Yuba County for the recognition of our Religious Property Tax Exemption for the Galleria. You may read about it in today’s Appeal Democrat front page top or online at the Appealdemocrat.com.

We have tried very hard to work with Yuba County to obtain the religious and welfare exemptions that we are due under the law, but we have been denied at every turn. We are now forced to sue the County, incurring additional legal expenses for both the Fellowship of Friends and the County’s other taxpayers, in order to receive the tax-exempt property status granted to dozens of other religious organizations in Yuba County.

As part of our court filing, the Fellowship is seeking a refund of property taxes that have been erroneously and illegally collected by Yuba County over the last four years. Recently, there has been some misrepresentation by others about our intentions for this property, so we want to be clear: this property is used as our primary place of worship and other ceremonial religious events. Our intention is that this property remains exclusively a place of religious worship and ceremonial religious events. The County should live up to its obligation to provide the Fellowship of Friends with the same property tax exemptions afforded to other places of worship in Yuba County.

Please be advised that now that this is an open case in the courts that we will not be talking about it any further. You may refer any inquires to me at 530-692-[xxxx] ext. 8217 or my cell phone 530-301-[xxxx].

Thank you,

G. H. [assumed to be Girard Haven]

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dear President of Fellowship

Greg Holman. From Territorial Dispatch
Yuba County 5th District (Oregon House/Foothills) Supervisor Hal Stocker wrote on the YubaFoothills.com political forum, September 10, 2014:
Dear Mr. Greg Holman, [Fellowship of Friends] President:

In the interest of harmony between the Fellowship and the rest of the community, please do your best to get the Fellowship to not push a local agenda that is at odds with the wishes and desires of the great majority of residents in Dobbins-Oregon House.

By this I refer to the Fellowship's efforts to rezone much of their lands for housing projects.

Most of the local (non-Fellowship) residents want to keep Dobbins-Oregon House much the way it is.

As stated in their Plan: They prefer tree-tops over roof-tops. They don't care to be another Grass Valley.

And, with this severe drought, there is not enough water for the present population, let alone for new-comers.

Personally, I have had no objection to North Yuba Grown, and I have supported that effort. I support Gary and Kim Hawthorne in their local ag efforts. Also, I am in favor of more recognition for our excellent local wines and olive oils, etc., etc. And tourism is fine, kept under control.

WE ALL NEED TO GET ALONG TOGETHER. Let's make an effort.

Hal Stocker. 675-2282

[ed. - A lively debate has ensued, including this comment from, one might guess to be, a certain Charles Walter Sharp, Fellowship member and business partner of Randy Fletcher. In November, Stocker will face Fletcher in a run-off election for the 5th District Supervisor seat. Also jumping in on the "conversation" is Nick Spaulding, Fellowship political activist and outspoken critic of the incumbent, who has for years pursued development rights for Fellowship interests, ]

"cws2352" wrote on the YubaFoothills.com political forum, September 10, 2014:

Hal, old news and you know it could never actually happen. This type of posting is beneath an ethical person. You are trying to incite the haters and use the FOF as a scapegoat to trash Fletcher. Why do that when you already have their (the haters) vote? It's not likely that you'll sway any clear thinking individuals.

Petty, pathetic and perilous.

Like you said Hal, "WE ALL NEED TO GET ALONG TOGETHER. Let's make an effort."

Thursday, September 4, 2014

High quality pot, North Yuba grown

[ed. - Long-time Fellowship of Friends member Jonathan Fairoaks, aka John Schaberg, was arrested in yet another in a series of North Yuba pot busts involving Fellowship members.]

From the Appeal-Democrat September 4, 2014:
Illinois pot stop leads to foothills’ bust

By Monica Vaughan/mvaughan@appealdemocrat.com

Local law enforcement, tipped off by police in Illinois, busted a marijuana grow operation near Oregon House; and the case serves as an example of Yuba County's role as a supplier of high-quality, high-price marijuana to nationwide distribution channels, an official said. Yuba-Sutter narcotics agents were contacted Tuesday by Illinois State Police, who intercepted 35 pounds of marijuana grown in the Yuba County foothills and on its way to Philadelphia.

That led the local agents to a 97-plant outdoor grow site, where they arrested Jonathan Fairoaks, 63. "This is very high quality weed we're talking about," said NET-5 Task Force Commander Martin Horan. "The marijuana coming from our part of the country is known as being top quality and bringing in top dollar."

Fairoaks' wife, Merry Stehling, 63, was stopped by police in Illinois and found with packaged marijuana in the trunk of a rented car, Horan said. She was arrested on suspicion of transportation of marijuana, conspiracy and possession for sale.

As a result of the seizure and Stehling's cooperation, the Illinois State Police made a controlled delivery of marijuana to a residence in Philadelphia, where officers seized heroin, hash oil, and $90,000 cash.

Illinois police advised Yuba-Sutter agents that Fairoaks was at his residence in the 9700 block of Wildwood Trail in Oregon House, leading to a search warrant.

NET-5 agents served the warrant Tuesday afternoon, leading to the arrest and seizure of property related to the grow operation.

"Wildwood Trail is off the dirt road in the boonies," Horan said. "The guys had to walk in a half mile and caught (Fairoaks) on a four-wheeler and arrested him."

Horan said Yuba County is a major supplier for channels across the nation to distributors, particularly on the East Coast.

"It's going for $4,000 a pound back there," he said.

Last week, he received a call from police in Nashville looking at Yuba County as a source of marijuana to their jurisdiction.

Read more at Appeal-Democrat.com

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Fellowship of Friends/Living Presence/Fourth Way/Divine Presence/Gurdjieff-Ouspensky/Esoteric/(Whatever) School on the internet

Robert Earl Burton's Fellowship of Friends Living Presence cult bookmark, Apollo, Oregon House, CA

[ed. -
To lure seekers from other traditions, and to also mitigate the effects of negative publicity, the Fellowship of Friends continually re-brands itself. Recruiting sites proliferate under a myriad of titles and themes. The websites below are generally grouped according to their primary target market. The "unofficial" sites are mostly critical of Robert Burton and the Fellowship of Friends.]

ARGENTINA
Recuerdo de sí
Fellowship of Friends - Centro de Buenos Aires on Facebook
BRAZIL
Gurdjieff Tornando-se Consciente (Portuguese)
PRESENÇA DIVINA (Portuguese)
 Centro Sao Paolo on Google + (Portuguese)
CANADA
Toronto Friends of Presence (Meetup led by William Scholte of the Fellowship)
CHINA
The Fourth Way and Esoteric Traditions (Chinese)
The Fourth Way and Esoteric Traditions (English)
The Great Way: Journey to the West
The Secret of the Golden Flower
The Taoist I Ching

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Bonita Hightower, Robert Burton's first student, passes away

Bonita Guido, Robert Burton's first "student,"
in February 1973. Photo by Drew Kampion.
[ed. - Bonita Hightower (Guido) and Robert Burton met at a party before New Years Day 1970, and thus began The Fellowship of Friends. See: "Early History of The Fellowship of Friends, as told by Student #1".]

"Amanda Raphaelson" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 28, 2014:

Hi All,

I received information from Thomas Hightower, Friday, that my mother, Bonita Hightower (Guido) had passed away on Thursday, July 24th of natural causes. She had been ill for many years. A small memorial service will be held in Denmark on Wed. afternoon, local time, and her ashes will be spread at sea. The In Memorandum section on the Greater Fellowship site will have more information soon.

"Tempus Fugit" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 2, 2014:
Bonita G. – A Brief Remembrance

I noticed there has not been much comment on the death of Bonita G., perhaps because most of you never knew her. When I joined the FOF in the early 1970’s there were something over 100 and something less than 150 members, so I got to know a fair number of them personally, including Bonita and her husband David.

Obviously she later remarried, but I know nothing of that. In fact, much is lost to time. I don’t recall how long I knew her or where our paths parted. I think she left a long time before I did. She was identified as the “first student” but details of her meeting with Burton were not public conversation, and I knew only she met him at a party.

My direct memories of Bonita are few but I can see her clearly as I write this post.

I remember Bonita as someone very special and very intense. She was a large woman. Her facial features were broad and she had long black hair. The most striking aspect of her appearance were her eyes, dark and deep. (Others who knew her better may correct me, but this is how she looks in my mind.)

I don’t recall conversations with Bonita so much as encounters! Her presence was powerful and serious. There was an air of mystery about her, and possession of secret knowledge. I liked her but she was also intimidating. Partly that was her status in the group, but it was also the feeling that when I spoke to her she was actually seeing me, actually there with me.

Thus when I was near her she pushed me to be in the present with her and be present to myself. And wasn’t that our goal?

"Tempus Fugit" added:
Well, well. I just re-discovered about this Fellowship of Friends wiki page where Bonita posted her own story in 1997.

Here’s the link.

Monday, June 9, 2014

"A Time for Healing"

[ed. - In response to Greg Holman’s Letter to the Editor concerning the Fellowship’s role in the community, former member Lew Neal wrote this Letter to the Editor titled “A Time for Healing.”]
A moral debt has accrued between our foothills community and the Fellowship of Friends (FOF). This present discourse is voiced by a minority of past members and “life people”, and certainly felt by many who remain voiceless.

We are glad the FOF has decided to join in community affairs. What cannot be ignored, though, is the long shadow cast by the FOF behavior for the past 44 years. There were three large lawsuits documenting the reprehensible behavior perpetrated by Robert Earl Burton, the Fellowship of Friends teacher, which is public knowledge that cannot be disputed or denied. The people of this community have a right to sit across from the FOF and discuss what we feel to be a dark aspect of the FOF’s church. It is not enough for the FOF president to pass out sums of money to our poor community groups and believe “all has been forgiven” now.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fellowship of Friends President Greg Holman responds

I very much like Gregory of Nissa’s thought: “If evil was presented to us as it really is, unadorned with some semblance of good, we would not fly to it so easily." - Robert Earl Burton
Letter to the Editor, Territorial Dispatch
Fellowship; Part of the Community
by Greg Holman, President, Fellowship of Friends

Over the last few weeks there has been an effort by some to use the Fellowship of Friends to influence the Yuba County 5th District Supervisor’s race. This effort has taken the form of numerous public communications making unsubstantiated claims that the Fellowship is a cult and then trying to tie a candidate to the Fellowship to try and discredit the candidate. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for some to be fearful and distrustful of what is different or what they don’t understand. The Fellowship has dealt with this in the past by trying to work quietly and privately to educate these individuals about the Fellowship and our beliefs. However, the Fellowship is extremely troubled by this recent activity for numerous reasons and believe this public response is necessary.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Appeal-Democrat reports on election issues

[Editorial comments follow]

Excerpted from the Appeal-Democrat:
By Eric Vodden/Appeal-Democrat
the race for 5th District supervisor in Yuba County took an unexpected turn with incumbent Hal Stocker running an ad trying to connect opponent Randy Fletcher to the Fellowship of Friends. That ad included a story published on an Oregon-based website that called the Fellowship, followers of Mystical Fourth-Way Christianity, a "cult."

5th District Y.C. supervisor

A political ad that appeared last week generated some new attention in the five-candidate race for 5th District Yuba County supervisor.

The question is whether the paid ad that ran in the Appeal-Democrat brought to the voters a legitimate issue or is a case of dirty politics.

"It didn't bother me," said incumbent Hal Stocker, who purchased the ad that ran May 18. "As far as I am concerned it was factual. I don't see any reason to criticize it."

The ad links opponent Randy Fletcher with the Fellowship of Friends organization. It includes an article by Eric Salerno of Browns Valley that appeared on the Oregon-based website Salem-News.com.

Salerno, listed as a contributor to the website, said Thursday he received no payment from the Stocker campaign, but that he gave permission for its use. He noted that Fletcher had first agreed to be interviewed and then backed out.

"I had interviewed three of the candidates previously and he was next on the list," Salerno said. "My motivation is to get the candidate's story and print it."

A Marysville insurance agent who lives in Browns Valley, Fletcher is one of four candidates seeking to oust Stocker, who is seeking a sixth term. Others running are former supervisor Don Schrader, Jenny Cavaliere and Kathie Thelen.

Fletcher said he preferred to not respond directly to the ad. However, he emphasized he is not a Fellowship member and that any connections he has with members are through his business or in helping organize community events.

"I don't want to go there," Fletcher said of the ad. "It's not healthy for the community."

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Fellowship members' latest foray into local politics

Fellowship of Friends President Greg Holman, Fellowship investor Charles Sharp with 5th District Candidate Randy Fletcher
Photo accompanying first article below: Yuba County 5th District Supervisor candidate Randy Fletcher,
with Fellowship of Friends President Greg Holman and Fellowship  investor Charles Sharp.

 [ed. - The political activities of Fellowship of Friends members Steven Dambeck, Charles Sharp, Greg Holman, and Nick Spaulding are drawing attention from observers in Yuba County and beyond.

Long-time Fellowship employee and political operative Nicholas Spaulding is actively engaging in negative campaigning against opponents of candidate Randy Fletcher, who until recently was is in a business partnership with Sharp and Dambeck. As noted below, Spaulding may be assisting District One Supervisor Andy Vasquez's re-election campaign. Andy recently voted in favor of the Fellowship's claim for a $520,000 tax refund from Yuba County. (Still, the Board voted to deny the request.) If it is found that these efforts are the result of an officially-orchestrated campaign and/or involve church assets, they may be violating 501(c)(3) tax exemption rules. (See below.)]

From the IRS Tax Guide for Churches & Religious Organizations:

All IRC section 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches and religious organizations, must abide by certain rules:
  • their net earnings may not inure to any private shareholder or individual,
  • they must not provide a substantial benefit to private interests,
  • they must not devote a substantial part of their activities to attempting to influence legislation,
  • they must not participate in, or intervene in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office, and
  • the organization’s purposes and activities may not be illegal or violate fundamental public policy.

From YubaFoothills.com, May 14, 2014: New Article Ties Randy Fletcher to Cult


From the Territorial Dispatch, May 5, 2014:

Fellowship Becomes Issue in Political Race
As it has been said many times, “Follow the money trail.” In this case follow the wine trail to Renaissance Vineyard and Winery, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Fellowship of Friends, and there you will find the biggest supporters of Randy Fletcher, candidate for supervisor in the 5th district.

Do you remember all of the lawsuits that have been brought against the Fellowship and Robert Earl Burton? Do you remember what they were about? Please take the time to Google them or go to robertearlburton.blogspot.com.

According to this cult, all of us are walking dead people. Why do they want to get involved with us dead folks now, and what is their motivation to get a supervisor in their back pocket?

Is it possibly because of events occurring around 2012 when the Fellowship lost most of their paying members? Prior to this time, their leader forbid them to get involved politically. The word is they had a meeting and decided to start reaching out to the community. Do they have a strategy? Why did they start getting members to register to vote (those who are legal)? We wonder why they began sending certain members out to schmooze with politicians and worm their way into local politics. Some are writing articles to discredit the incumbent candidate and other candidates. Some of these were going to the Republican Party Central Committee meetings and interrupting spouting out their agendas.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Elysian Society


[ed. - In May, another Fellowship of Friends member committed suicide at his Oregon House home. Roger Pugh is memorialized on the Fellowship's Elysian Society website.

The non-profit was founded in 1999, and incorporated May 22, 2006 (CA Secretary of State ID: C2882654.) Among its goals, assist those who cannot afford end-of-life services. Left unspoken is the fact that extreme financial demands levied upon Fellowship members usually contribute to the "client's" desperate financial condition.

The Elysian Society website features abundant donation suggestions (in your loved one's memory, of course.) And a variety of services offered stimulate the economy and beautification of Apollo. "Life families," whom Robert Burton repeatedly characterized as "dead to you," are now equally encouraged to donate to the cult that took their family member from them.

The funeral service scripts (linked on the memorial pages) are full of bromides promoting Burton, the Fellowship, and presence. I wonder how many of these services Burton attends?]

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Apollo, Land of Enchantment

[ed. - For Robert Earl Burton's 75th birthday, a story.]
Long ago, upon introduction to The Fellowship of Friends, the prospective member was solemnly admonished, "Believe nothing. Verify everything."

After three brief, and carefully scripted introductory meetings, the prospective member was presented the opportunity to join The Fellowship of Friends. Collection of monthly financial payments ("donations") began with the new member's first regular meeting.

But from their earliest encounters, the new member faced elements of Robert Burton's teaching that were clearly impossible to verify. And this immediately placed the novice in an untenable position. If they were to remain in this mysterious and alluring group, it was already necessary to ignore a basic tenet of the teaching. In the case of "unverifiable" statements, they would have to grant exceptions, and hope that they would one day be able to verify the information. Eventually, as the indoctrination was completed, this tendency would become a normalized behavior, and exceptions become the rule.

Here is a small sampling of Burton's superstitions or myths the acolyte would have to accept, or risk reproach.
Robert Burton is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, and he alone is the source of divine instruction upon earth.

Burton is a "conscious being," directly and personally guided by Leonardo da Vinci and 43 other conscious beings (also known as angels, C Influence, Higher Forces, or The Gods.)

Of the 45 conscious beings (counting Burton,) 44 are men. According to Burton, Elizabeth I of England was the sole woman in history to attain consciousness.

These conscious beings regularly communicate with Burton and his followers through "conscious shocks" which are often messages revealed only to the initiated (those conditioned to perceive them) via license plate numbers (at first, anything containing the number 44, but later on, with the advent of personalized plates, any symbolic wording or numbers,) aphorisms, "esoteric" images, etc.

Fellowship members are the only humans on earth attempting to "awaken" and create a soul. The remainder of humanity are "sleeping machines."

The Fellowship of Friends is building a literal ark, intended to preserve humanity's highest arts and culture for future generations. This ark will survive Armageddon.

The Fellowship compound at Apollo will be a refuge for members during global calamities which Higher Forces have personally indicated to Burton. (Past failed prophecies include the Depression of 1984, the Fall of California in 1998, and "Armageddon" or nuclear holocaust of 2006, which was postponed to 2012, and now looms in the unspecified but proximate future.)

All of humanity, save those who remain devoted followers of Burton, shall perish and their "magnetic fields" shall become food for the moon (which itself is an evolving organism.)

Those who leave the Fellowship are condemned to a "fate worse than death" and have no further chance of evolution. He said it would have been better were they never born.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dördüncü Yol Okulu - Fourth Way School introductory meeting in Istanbul


The Fellowship of Friends Istanbul Center (Dördüncü Yol Okulu - Fourth Way School) is holding an introductory meeting on May 31st. (See Facebook announcement for details.) In an earlier post, Ames Gilbert provided a List of Questions a spiritual seeker should be prepared to ask before joining a group.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

"Sex, Lies, and Grand Schemes of Thought in Closed Groups"

Robert Earl Burton, founder of Fellowship of Friends cult
Robert Earl Burton, the "vessel through which
Higher Forces reveal their will"

"Jomo Piñata" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 13, 2010:

For those interested, the 1997 Cultic Studies Journal article about the Fellowship of Friends, authored by “A Collective of Women” and titled “Sex, Lies, and Grand Schemes of Thought in Closed Groups” is now available to read without charge, by clicking on the following link: http://bit.ly/bBlcty [ed. - Once at the site, you may need to click "make a copy."]
This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1997, Volume 14, Number 1, pages 58-84.

Sex, Lies, and Grand Schemes of Thought
in Closed Groups

A Collective of Women

Abstract
This article explores the invisible dynamics of control and submission in a closed group with which the authors were affiliated for many years. Relying on Herman’s (1992) model of psychological captivity, the article illustrates the psychological dynamics of the “courtship” of recruits and the covert coercive control through which individual identity is dismantled and the worldview of the group’s leader introduced. Three methods of control are discussed: fear induction, destruction of autonomy, and breaking of personality. The last part of the article explores how cultural issues related to sexism enhance the power of high-demand groups.

We write as women who spent an average of 20 years involved in a philosophically oriented, religious community based on the teachings of George Gurdjieff and Peter Ouspensky. All of us have now left the group, most within the past 5 years. Yet, we are still dealing with the aftereffects of what we have come to see was a destructive world permeated with the dynamics of hidden control.

Some of us are still wondering what happened to our lives. How were we willingly entrapped in a destructive world for so long? No one forced us to join the group or to stay, or so it would appear. Rather, we were attracted to the group and its leader. We became passionately involved, even zealous in our apparent commitment, loyal and dedicated to our own undoing. Over time, we undermined our capacities for free thought, for hearing our own conscience, for mutuality in relationship, and for finding our own way in the world. How did this happen to us?

We write anonymously and disguise the identity of the group because we fear that harassment may follow exposure. We acknowledge that our perspective on how our group functioned is personal and that others may disagree with part or all of what we say, although we are confident that many would agree. Our goal is not to “expose” a particular group, or to “define” it through the articulation of our personal experience. Our goal is to alert others to the elements of influence that can unwittingly bind people to what ultimately harms them, and, especially, to the dangers of involvement with seemingly benevolent, self-appointed leaders. In addition to mastering our own legacy of confusion, betrayal, anger, and fear, we hope to shed light on the largely invisible dynamics of control and submission that sustain such groups and the culture at large. Also we want to offer a view of what it was like--how silent and unobtrusive the soul-killing can be.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Beyond the golden veil, a legacy of shame and silence

[ed. - The recent news about tax refunds, non-profits misbehaving, and deceptive recruiting tactics is trifling compared to what has lain at the heart of The Fellowship of Friends for over forty-four years. And that is the psychological and physical abuse of devotees by a sociopathic "religious" leader. Today, despite the "openness" of the internet and all the revelations it has brought, Robert Burton's abuse of power and violation of his followers' trust apparently continues unchallenged. It is important to remind readers of the many testimonies that fill this history of the cult. In the on-line forum linked below, the blogger "Someone," while claiming to be an ex-member, often speaks in support of the Fellowship, encouraging forbearance and even acceptance of the Fellowship's "insignificant" flaws.]

"Someone" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 13, 2010:
[In response to blogger "brucelevy," an ex-member who reported having been raped by Robert Burton:]

Still the plain facts are that you haven’t been in the FoF [Fellowship of Friends] in the last 25 years or more so I might be knowing certain things better than you.

While I was a member, I took the trouble to check the facts and RB’s [Robert Burton's] sexual circle around 4-5 years ago included 10-14 students out of which 6-8 were more ‘permanent’ and the rest more casual. He did use to ‘replace’ 5-10 students each year. So altogether it used to be around 20-25 students. Out of ~2000 members at that time, it is around 1 percent.

Statistically it is a ‘small circle’ and that’s what I said.

That is a FACT, not an opinion!!!

Essentially 20 or 25 abused students is terrible especially if one gathers all of them along 40 years.

The context in which I was using the term ‘small circle’ (and almost everyone here is an expert of taking things out of context) was that people are still joining because there are VERY ATTRACTIVE elements in the FoF ideas and 1 percent of abused students is relatively small for most of them to notice unless they are part of the victims or close to them.

One cannot ignore the persistence that RB puts on being present. It is an appealing idea for some people (it used to be appealing for many ex-members here, perhaps for most of them). Stating that God is presence can be a powerful idea in the 21st century. If one chooses not to deal with it for what it is, one is missing the opportunity to approach new seekers.

I think that a more balanced discussion would have made this Blog a much better source for new seekers. A balanced approach is more appealing. It has more reasoning and it can be much more convincing.

"Old FOF" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 15, 2010:
In the interests of prospective and current students who may come here for information, I personally don’t want the recent comments by the contributor known as Someone about the scope of the sexual abuse in the Fellowship of Friends by Robert Burton to stand without further comment.

The following has all been brought out in this blog very well (and in much more and better detail) – in the past years. It is so central to the issue regarding the Fellowship of Friends cult and abuse – that it is sort of pathetic that it has to be addressed again (and to an ex-student) – but here goes.

When I left in the mid-1990s I estimate that by that time Robert Burton had likely had sex with over 1,000 of his male students. This was not just a made up figure but an estimate based on serious inquiry.

For example (in retrospect on discovering that this practice was occurring), through various means I was able find that about 40% of the male students in each of the two main centers in which I had been living were seduced by Robert Burton – some very soon (weeks) after they joined.

Still later, I learned of the almost conveyor belt system that was established for young men to travel with Robert – it appeared somewhat coordinated by his “secretaries” – whereby I learned that on balance about two new students were seduced each week, in this manner.

His “symposium” drinking bouts were also a means of seduction for inebriated students.

Finally, for a while I was in a position to know about a number of students who one would never have dreamed would have fallen to Robert – who also at one time or another had been seduced.

These were almost all heterosexual students – and many of them carried large shame and silence.

It’s possible that this has been toned down in recent years, but based on comments by those who seem to be sincere students and ex-students over the past two to three years (on this blog), it seems likely that this pace of sexual abuse if ameliorated at all – has not been by much.

I suspect that Someone is (somewhat) sincere. But I would maintain that her research was / is incomplete at best. And I would ask her to consider that she may be wrong in her numbers by orders of magnitude (add zeros) – that the true story is hidden very well by a master at using student shame and embarrassment to keep such things in the dark.

And I would ask her to consider the effect that her words may have on vulnerable people – if you are wrong (you are). You ought to think about what minimizing does, Someone. In your mind, you are just being honest, but consider that there are others that know more than you do. At the least, you ought to make room for other views, if only to not be a possible accomplice in the whitewash. To join in the whitewash is to be an accomplice – and to accrue terrible karma.

In passing please note again that this debate is not “esoteric.” One of Robert’s conquests hanged himself, one either died or nearly died from anorexia, and at least three had psychotic breakdowns. And these are just the ones that I knew about. Was Robert Burton responsible? In my mind he is, but maybe there were contributing factors. Nevertheless, why is a “conscious” teacher having sex with hundreds and perhaps thousands of his own male students – some of whom are vulnerable, and nearly all of whom were naïve sincere seekers?

The idea that Robert Burton’s sexual abuse is more or less confined to a select few would be laughable – if it was not so hideously tragic.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Steve Dambeck is on a mission to promote The Fellowship of Friends

[ed. - Steven Dambeck has been appointed Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce Director of Visitor Services. It is curious that, despite Dambeck's over 35 years with the Fellowship, the Appeal-Democrat article below makes no mention of the Oregon House cult, nor of Dambeck's Apollo Olive Oil and Renaissance Vineyard and Winery connections. 

A Fellowship leader, minister, and self-described sexual partner of founder Robert Burton, Dambeck has been tireless in promoting Fellowship businesses, those of its members, and his own ventures, which include North Fork Yuba River, his partnership with Randy Fletcher, current candidate for Yuba County 5th District Supervisor. Fletcher, who also sits on the Board of Education, recently helped the Fellowship-backed Yuba Environmental Science Charter Academy (YESCA) gain renewal of its charter.

While Dambeck serves to increase Yuba County tourism, it would not be surprising to see attention and resources "coaxed" in the Fellowship's direction, and towards his, Greg Holman, and Charles Sharp's brand new Yuba Harvest tasting room in Oregon House. (It's not clear if Randy Fletcher is participating in that venture.) 

June 16, 2014 update: Dambeck's Yuba Harvest tasting room was shut down for lack of a proper alcoholic beverage permit. How could an experienced wine professional commit such an amateurish misstep?]
Steve Dambeck is on a mission to promote Y-S wineries

Appeal-Democrat
By Eric Vodden/evodden@appealdemocrat.com

For a longtime wine lover, Steven Dambeck isn't all that concerned about adhering to the strict guidelines of whether a cabernet or chardonnay best satisfies the palate with a particular dish.

He acknowledges it can be intimidating for a wine neophyte to whiff the bouquet or find the hint of blackberry within the complex tastes of a particular vintage.

But it's the culture of wine making that he loves, the aura that a glass brings to a social event and a well-planned meal.

"Food is the catalyst where there are people," said Dambeck, adding that he gained his appreciation for wine and food while spending time in Europe. "Wine is what pulls it all together."

Dambeck is a board member of the North Yuba Grown farmers organization, the Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce's new director of visitor services and is involved with the North Sierra Vintner's Association.

The bottom line through all those associations is to help Yuba-Sutter see itself in a better light and get those from the outside looking in to share that light.

Read more at Appeal-Democrat.com

 [ed. - May 20, 2014: Getting right down to business, the Chamber announced a new TV show in which "Dambeck will be featured on the show talking about local wineries." Of course, the largest, most well-known of those wineries is the Fellowship's Renaissance Vineyard and Winery. And there are two others owned by Fellowship members.]

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Fellowship scores in Manhattan

[ed. - Lest readers feel too sorry for The Fellowship of Friends owing to the harsh treatment it recently received at the hands of Yuba County Supervisors, below The Fellowship boasts in a memo of placing its wine in some of Manhattan's finest establishments.

Let's look at a sampling of wines from The Fellowship's Renaissance Vineyard and Winery now available in Manhattan:

From Morrell & Company, a retail wine seller:
Renaissance Cabernet Sauvignon Vin de Terroir Sierra Foothills 1999 750ml - $95.00/750ml
Renaissance Cabernet Sauvignon Vin de Terroir Sierra Foothills 1997 750ml - $100.00/750ml
Renaissance Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Sierra Foothills 1984 750ml - $110.00/750ml
How many Yuba County residents can afford such luxuries?]

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Is the non-profit North Yuba Grown engaging in political activism?

[ed. - In the race for Yuba County's 5th District Supervisor post, it appears North Yuba Grown member Jenny Cavaliere has shown the audacity to challenge Randy Fletcher, a candidate being groomed by Fellowship of Friends members through proxies such as North Yuba Grown and North Fork Yuba River.

Fletcher is a partner in Steven Dambeck's North Fork Yuba River and owner of Chestnut Grove, a venue that Dambeck and North Yuba Grown promote and rent for special events. Until recently, Steven's name and phone number appeared on Chestnut Grove's website. Dambeck, of course, is associated with Apollo Olive Oil and Renaissance Vineyard & Winery. Renaissance is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Fellowship of Friends, and Apollo Olive Oil derives much of its fruit from Fellowship lands while the owners provide tax-deductible financial support to the Oregon House cult.

The Fellowship of Friends has long sought to exploit public funding channels, and in this endeavor, a sympathetic district supervisor would be an important ally and valuable asset. 

Charles Sharp, a Fellowship member, North Yuba Grown co-founder, and partner in North Fork Yuba River, wrote the following Letter to the Editor. Charles registered Randy's Chestnut Grove domain under North Fork Yuba River's name.]

"Barbara" posted the following on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 6, 2014:
THE TERRITORIAL DISPATCH
April 2, 2014 - Yuba County CA

North Yuba Grown Is Neutral 

North Yuba Grown is a grass roots California non-profit organization promoting local agriculture in and around the foothills of Yuba County.

As such, it must remain politically neutral and cannot endorse any political candidacy.

Recently, Jenny Cavaliere, a candidate for supervisor of the 5th district, issued a press release to the Territorial Dispatch, apparently on behalf of North Yuba Grown.

As a founding member and part of the publicity committee of North Yuba Grown, I can state that this self serving release was not authorized or sanctioned by the membership, nor does it represent an endorsement by the organization in any way.

Might this be an indication of how Ms. Cavaliere, as supervisor, would put her own self interests before the people of Yuba County?

In closing, I would like to commend John Mistler, editor of the Territorial Dispatch, for giving all the candidates fair and equal treatment.
Charles Sharp
Oregon House, Ca.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Group’s tax refund request shot down

[ed. - The Fellowship of Friends' claim that the Galleria, founder Robert Burton's residence and focal point of the Fellowship's Apollo headquarters, is used exclusively for "religious worship" is laughable. Burton's residence (and any member would be remiss in regarding it otherwise) has for four decades been the site of sexual escapades described in these pages. Believing he is above mere mortal laws, Burton has fostered a culture of "gentle" disregard for society's rules. From the earliest days, his organization largely ignored Federal laws prohibiting private inurement in tax-exempt religious organizations. Burton has always been the chief beneficiary of his "congregation's" largess. It is interesting to note that the Fellowship is endeavoring to elect a more sympathetic supervisor to replace Mr. Stocker, who voted to deny the request. Supervisor Vasquez, who is comfortably on board with the Fellowship, voted to approve the refund. See also, this 116-page document submitted to Yuba County Board of Supervisors on behalf of The Fellowship of Friends. See also Ames Gilbert's earlier post. See also, a 1991 court ruling on the Fellowship's attempt to have the Galleria, then the Goethe Academy, exempted.]

From the Appeal-Democrat:
By Eric Vodden/ evodden@appealdemocrat.com

For the second time in 2 1⁄2 years, Yuba County has rejected a property tax refund request from the Fellowship of Friends.

County supervisors voted 3-1 Tuesday to deny the group's request for refunds for each of the past four years and part of 2009-10. The group claims it is entitled to religious and welfare exemptions.

The Fellowship's claim does not specify an amount. But based on estimates of $30,000 a year for real property and $100,000 a year on personal property, the refund would total about $520,000, said Assessor Bruce Stottlemeyer.