Introduction


Robert Earl Burton founded The Fellowship of Friends in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1970. Burton modeled his own group after that of Alex Horn, loosely borrowing from the Fourth Way teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. In recent years, the Fellowship has cast its net more broadly, embracing any spiritual tradition that includes (or can be interpreted to include) the notion of "presence."

The Fellowship of Friends exhibits the hallmarks of a "doomsday religious cult," wherein Burton exercises absolute authority, and demands loyalty and obedience. He warns that his is the only path to consciousness and eternal life. Invoking his gift of prophecy, he has over the years prepared his flock for great calamities (e.g. a depression in 1984, the fall of California in 1998, nuclear holocaust in 2006, and most recently the October 2018 "Fall of California Redux.")

According to Burton, Armageddon still looms in our future and when it finally arrives, non-believers shall perish while, through the direct intervention and guidance from 44 angels (recently expanded to 81 angels, including himself and his divine father, Leonardo da Vinci), Burton and his followers shall be spared, founding a new and more perfect civilization. Read more about the blog.

Presented in a reverse chronology, the Fellowship's history may be navigated via the "Blog Archive" located in the sidebar below.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Bigger Than the Pope: Jennings Brown on Teal Swan and The Fellowship of Friends

[ed. - Sarah Edmondson and Anthony “Nippy” Ames, hosts of the "A Little Bit Culty" podcast and former NXIVM members, interview Jennings Brown about his investigation into The Fellowship of Friends. From their website's "About" page:

Think you might be in a cult? Want to know the signs? Join Sarah Edmondson and Anthony “Nippy” Ames to talk about things that are...a little bit culty. Or in their case: a whole bunch of culty. As whistleblowers documented in the critically-acclaimed HBO series “The Vow,” Sarah and Nippy have a lot to say about their experience, and burning questions to ask people with similar stories. They’re here to help people understand, heal from, and avoid abusive situations one little red flag at a time. Listen in as they share their stories, have frank and unscripted conversations with other survivors and cult experts, and do a deep dive on how devotion can turn to dysfunction.
(Note: The player should start at the 46-minute mark, where the conversation turns to the Fellowship. You may need to press the control button several times for it start at that mark. If you hear, "flying monkeys," you're in the right spot (and some may be reminded of our friend Bruce Levy.)

 

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Robert Earl Burton: Californian guru devoted to finer things in life accused of sex assaults

[ed. - The following article appears in The Times of London. (It appears the author must have seen a CliffsNotes version of Jennings Brown's original investigative journalism.)]

Charlie Mitchell
Saturday November 13 2021, 12.01am GMT
The Times
 
Robert Earl Burton, now in his 80s, has not responded to the allegations

When a charismatic leader established a would-be utopia devoted to fine art, higher consciousness and the production of wine in 1970s California, it drew hundreds of devotees from across America.However, Robert Earl Burton’s teachings soon grew more apocalyptic and allegations of sexual exploitation began to trickle out. Burton is alleged to have abused scores of male followers, particularly those who were young, attractive and heterosexual. There are claims of sex rituals, dubbed “love fests”, where Burton would attempt to have sex with 100 followers in a day.

A podcast called Revelations, the product of three years of work by Jennings Brown, an American investigative journalist, is now lifting the lid on the Fellowship of Friends, which today has about 1,600 members.


Burton next a piece of European art at the Fellowship of Friends property in 1981

Gary Fong/San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

“It sounded stranger than fiction,” Brown, who first learnt of the cult while speaking to the husband of the American spiritual leader Teal Swan, told Spending time there was “surreal”. He added: “It was fascinating being around all these incredibly brilliant, articulate, kind people who were all out in this world that felt separated from the world that I knew.” But soon, amid whispers of sex rituals, he realised “there was so much more going on.”

Life on the 1,200-acre Apollo compound in Oregon House, California, was always dictated by Burton’s whims. The former Arkansas teacher, now in his early 80s, recast himself as a guru in the 1970s after developing the teachings of George Gurdjieff, a Russian mystic, and his Fourth Way school of self-awareness. Burton preached full immersion in high art and the abolition of negative thoughts. His mission, according to the podcast, was to start a new refined civilisation that would emerge from the approaching apocalypse.

Sport, humour, glasses, using the word “I” and even pregnancy were forbidden. Adherents were encouraged to take up ballet, painting and classical music. They also funded his “Galleria”, an impressive collection of mostly European artwork, kept in his home. Women were thought to be spiritually inferior, Brown claims.

“Nathan”, one of dozens of current and former members interviewed by the journalist, claimed that Burton insisted his wife terminate their child. “His explanation was that the child would be born too soon to be included on the ark. And being the fool that I was, I accepted the explanation,” Nathan said. “It wasn’t my best act here on Earth. My wife didn’t agree to it. It was kind of against her will.”

In 1996 a lawsuit was filed by Troy Buzbee, a former member, who claimed Burton abused him. The suit was settled out of court. By then, the community was large enough to have outposts in Paris and London, Brown said. When the Buzbee allegations made recruiting in America harder, they started recruiting more aggressively in Latin America and Russia.

The group was once investigated by immigration officials for allegedly bringing foreign recruits into the US on religious visas, Brown said, before coercing them into sexual slavery. No charges were brought. Prosecutors cite difficulties in pursuing religious groups, who are protected by the First Amendment.

The group has not responded publicly to the claims laid out in Revelations. However, Greg Holman, its president, told Brown he did not believe the assault allegations were true but that any community member was welcome to come to him with facts and evidence.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Sex rituals and fine wines: Inside alleged Cali cult the Fellowship of Friends

 [ed. - The following article appears in the New York Post. It was also posted by India-based news aggregator News Chant. Also see The Times of London's reporting, Robert Earl Burton: Californian guru devoted to finer things in life accused of sex assaults.]

Sex rituals and fine wines: Inside alleged Cali cult the Fellowship of Friends 

By Sara Stewart
November 9, 2021
7:25pm Updated 
 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

"We totally got away with it."

Fellowship of Friends - "A non-profit religious organization" (fellowshipoffriends.com)

"We never started out as a religion of any kind. The fact that the Fellowship is running around now saying that it's a religion is a result of the (IRS) audit. So, we made up the religion of the Fellowship of Friends to cover the fact that, otherwise, it was just Robert doing whatever the hell he wanted.

And we wrote the Canons of the Fellowship, all of its philosophies and everything, and that's what we presented to the IRS to justify ourselves. So, in a way, it was all a lie." 

 - Charles Randall, former Fellowship of Friends CFO (from "Revelations Act V")


Wednesday, October 27, 2021

SFGATE reports on the "Revelations" podcast

[ed. - Published in the SFGATE, October 27, 2021. Text of story follows. You can also hear Jennings Brown interviewed on the "Trust Me: Cults, Extreme Belief, and the Abuse of Power" podcast series.]

New podcast investigates abuse accusations at the NorCal cult that pioneered natural wine

'Revelations' pulls back the curtain on Fellowship of Friends

Nearly everything about the Fellowship of Friends feels like the stuff of fiction. In the 1970s, a charismatic leader builds a community devoted to high art and higher consciousness. The burgeoning group plants a vineyard 2.5 hours north of San Francisco and finds itself at the vanguard of the natural wine movement. The teaching turns apocalyptic, but the end of the world stubbornly fails to arrive. And then, as so often is the case, the absolute power corrupts the man in charge without consequence.

But the story of the Fellowship is all too real. And in a new podcast from the journalist Jennings Brown, which premiered this month on Spotify, allegations of abuse by the charismatic leader Robert Burton are laid out in chilling detail over the course of six episodes. With “Revelations,” Brown takes us to the Fellowship’s compound in Oregon House, California, and then shows us how Burton used his perch atop the Fellowship to allegedly abuse scores of young male followers for years. Brown hopes that finally, two decades after the first allegations were made public, there will be justice for the survivors.

In November 2017, at another commune called Teal Tribe, Brown had a fateful conversation. He was working on his Gizmodo podcast “The Gateway,” which told the story of Teal Swan, a controversial social-media savvy guru with a fervently devoted following. “I was out at her healing retreat center in Costa Rica, which was weirdly similar to ‘Nine Perfect Strangers,’” Brown tells me over Zoom from his Brooklyn apartment. 

Swan’s then-husband Ale Gicqueau mentioned that his own awakening had begun at a compound in Northern California with a spiritual group called the Fellowship of Friends, but he eventually came to see the Fellowship as a predatory cult. “But the way [Gicqueau] described it, it just seemed like this fantasy land,” says Brown. “This strange Shangri-La out in the wilderness where they had this giant vineyard and were collecting Renaissance art and had an amphitheater and this pantheon of 44 angels, that included Shakespeare, Bach, Rembrandt and da Vinci. I’m just like, ‘What the hell is this?’”

Brown filed the information away, eventually returning to what he believed would be a magazine feature in 2018. It proved to be fortuitous timing. Burton had predicted that October 2018 would be an Armageddon; after the collapse, their sprawling property out in Oregon House, California, would serve as a Noah’s Ark of sorts from which to restart society. 

To Brown’s surprise, he was invited to attend the End Times event at Apollo, the name Burton had given his 1,200-acre forested compound. “So, I was there for their final black-tie dinner before the end of the world,” Brown says. “I mean, as a journalist, I was like, ‘How often am I going to get a chance to see an apocalyptic group in the days leading up to their predicted apocalypse?’ I thought that was the story.”

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Jennings Brown interviewed on "Trust Me" podcast

[ed. - The following 1-hour and 20-minute podcast features an interview with Jennings Brown about his "Revelations" podcast and The Fellowship of Friends. Click on banner below or visit Podcastone.com to listen to the podcast. (The interview begins 7 minutes into the podcast.)]


#51: Jennings Brown: Investigating the Fellowship of Friends

Jennings Brown, reporter and host of cult podcasts The Gateway and Revelations, discusses life on the lavish compound of the Fellowship of Friends leading up to their doomsday date, why people cling to their prophecies when they don't come true, allegations of sexual assault against the group's leader, and the orgy that was compared to a trip to the DMV.

If you have your own story about cults, high-control groups, manipulation, or abuse of power, leave us a voicemail at 513-900-2955, OR shoot us an email at trustmepod@gmail.com.

FOLLOW US ON INSTAGRAM:

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OR TWITTER:

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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Robert Burton's inability to "be the words"

"Right action is the way the Self proceeds in relation to conscience."

- Robert Burton, Via Del Sol January 16, 1973  Volume 2  Number 13

Robert Earl Burton at Mount Carmel (aka The Farm) - 1974

Photo: Drew Kampion

[ed. - Robert Burton's preoccupation with sex has been described in many testimonies to be on a most carnal level. The following quotations from 1972 show Robert ("R.") has been incapable of "being the words" he has preached from the very beginning.]

 "Via Del Sol" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 7, 2007:

Early in its history, the Fellowship of Friends produced a printed publication (published approximately once a week), called “Via Del Sol”. This issue (Volume 2 Number 9, December 19th 1972) featured a collection of Robert Burton’s intellectual gems and purest distillation of his high understanding on the subject of sex. Italics are in the original.

Physical sex, in its deepest meaning, is designed to perpetuate the species, and insure nature of a vehicle for transmitting planetary and celestial influences to the earth. Man’s physical pleasures are secondary to this aim, and, in general, a by–product of nature’s hidden aim.
R.

The sex center is not an intelligent brain. It has a dull, plant–like intelligence. At times, it is quite a vulgar brain, and may be easily aroused by uncivilized levels of intelligence.
R.

If a person has a full relationship with another, then sex may be a part of the whole. Without this factor, then one is in tramp and their sex life does not relate well with the mass or whole of their being.
R.

Humans have been tricked by having their sex organs covered or hidden since birth, making them appear mysterious. This is why some people move from person to person having sex. They try to discover (or steal) what is hidden about the other person, and having found the secret move onto another person seeking the same hollow goal.
R.

To have sexual relations with a partner who is at a lower level of being is to be in tramp. Flirtations are a form of tramp in sex and are sex energy leaks.
R.

Martians, as a [body] type, have the least need or desire to abstain from sex. Mercuries follow them in this area.
R.

The machine creates enormous quantities of sex energy; nevertheless, whan we lose sex energy, it can be a weary day.
R.

Most men deviate in the quest for their Self by being engulfed in a woman’s problems, which she often offers a man as a means to gain his attention. Women put themselves to sleep by being conditioned to accept a subservient role to men. This refers to machines in both cases and not thyself. One of the ways schools in the past avoided this mechanical manifestation was through monasteries. The higher we can raise our level, it will be seen we are a vacuum moving amongst life, each a monastery amongst humanity.
R.

It is not generally harmful for students to be at a level in their life where they are confused about sex aims. They may fluctuate between a desire to engage in sex and a desire to abstain. Remember the Self is born as a result of friction; and sex is most often an area of friction.
R.

The sex center is a machine designed to seek out its magnetic opposite in physical union. It does not care for abstinence or transcending itself.
R.


Saturday, October 2, 2021

Jennings Brown reports on 3-year investigation of Fellowship of Friends

[ed. - The following podcast announcement comes from deadline.com. The series also receives mentions on SFGATE, Distractify, FanSided, geektyrant, Gizmodo, illinoisnewstoday.com, sidekick, and 1428elm, where The Fellowship of Friends appears in the "true crime" category. Primal Stream Media also reviews the podcast, calling it a candidate for the best podcast of 2021, and oprahdaily.com lists "Revelations" among the top 25 podcasts of 2021.]

A doomsday cult in Northern California known by wine lovers for their vintage is set to be the subject of a new podcast series from Blumhouse Television and Vespucci.

Spotify will launch Revelations, which premieres on October 3, hosted by The Gateway’s Jennings Brown.

The six-part series tells the story of the Fellowship of Friends, which was founded by Robert Earl Burton, an East Bay schoolteacher who began preaching out of a van in Berkeley in the 1960s before founding the fellowship in 1970 and building it up to around 2,500 members.

The group ran the successful Renaissance Vineyard and Winery between 1982 and 2015.

The series comes from Spotify’s Parcast, created in partnership with Blumhouse Television and Vespucci, the company behind Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Mask of Sanity audio series and Mamoudou Athie’s Chighali. Gilded Audio also produces.

“The echos of NXIVM in Revelations are sadly all too familiar, and make this story Jennings Brown uncovered all the more necessary listening,” said Chris McCumber, president Blumhouse Television.

“After three years of meticulous and unflinching reporting from Jennings, we are delighted for this story to finally come to light. Jennings has an uncanny ability to balance the tightrope of hard hitting journalism and intimate portraits of survival,” added Vespucci co-founders Daniel Turcan and Johnny Galvin.

Jennings Brown added, “I’m glad to finally be sharing the story of the Fellowship of Friends, its members, and its survivors—and I hope this series leaves listeners with a better understanding of the dynamics of spiritual abuse. I appreciate that Vespucci and Gilded Audio understood and supported this story from the beginning, and I’m grateful that Blumhouse Television, Parcast, and Spotify are helping us tell it.”

 

ABOUT

The Fellowship of Friends is an elite and secretive spiritual organization. Ex-members say it’s a doomsday cult and that its leader, Robert Earl Burton, preys on his followers. On October 20, 2018, journalist Jennings Brown was at the Fellowship’s extravagant compound, observing the final black-tie dinner before the end of the world. Robert had predicted the apocalypse was going to begin the next morning and Jennings wanted to report on the community as it prepared for a global catastrophe. But Jennings soon realized the end-times prophecy was just the beginning of the story. He’d spend the next three years investigating the Fellowship and its dark secrets. Revelations is a Spotify Original from Parcast. Produced by Blumhouse Television, Vespucci, Gilded Audio, Jennings Brown, and Dan Rosato. Hosted by Jennings Brown.

If you have any information you’d like to share about the Fellowship of Friends, please email revelationstipline@gmail.com or leave a voicemail at 347-480-3527.

This series includes discussions of sexual violence. If you are a survivor of sexual assault and need to talk to someone, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.4673 or visit hotline.rainn.org. If you are outside the U.S., Pathways Safety International can be reached at 833.SAFE.833.


PODCAST LINKS:

OFFICIAL TRAILER

ACT I

ACT II

ACT III

ACT IV

ACT V

ACT VI

 

JENNINGS BROWN ON TWITTER:

@tjenningsbrown

JENNINGS BROWN ON INSTAGRAM:

https://www.instagram.com/tjenningsbrown/

 

[ed. - The following link comes from Jennings Brown's Instagram page: The Art of the Scam: The Best Books, Podcasts, and Documentaries About Cults compiled by Alex McElroy.]