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.")

But 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.

Many regard Robert Earl Burton a narcissist and sociopath, surrounded by a largely greed- and power-driven inner circle. The following pages offer abundant evidence supporting that conclusion.

This archive draws from official Fellowship publications and websites, news archives, court documents, cult education and awareness forums, the Internet Archive, the long-running Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the (former) Fellowship of Friends wikispace project, the (ill-fated 2007) Fellowship of Friends Wikipedia page, and the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship. Presented in a reverse chronology, the Fellowship's history may be navigated via the "Blog Archive" located in the sidebar below.

Monday, April 2, 1973

The Fellowship's First Suicide

Cults & Consequences reports on the Fellowship of Friends
Former Fellowship member Barbara Bruno
Lancaster contributed to this volume.
[ed. - Former Fellowship member Lore Fisher-Smith (Lore Cappel) committed suicide April 2, 1973. Barbara Bruno Lancaster (see below) had joined the Fellowship a few months earlier (November 1, 1972). Demonstrating his fundamental lack of empathy, Robert Burton would later tell his followers "suicide is nature's way of eliminating weak seed." 

According to Harold Wirk's recruitment diagram, Lore and her husband were introduced to Burton's group through Helga Fenn (later, Guinevere Ruth Mueller).

(7/1/17 NOTE: For a long time, this blog mistakenly reported Lore's death as occurring April 2, 1972. This has been corrected based upon Jordan Fisher Smith's statement.)]

"Veronicapoe" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 26, 2007 at 5:30 a.m.:
Three months after joining this “study group”, a special meeting was called and it was announced that a woman who had left the school had committed suicide. This was seen as an example of what happens when students do not value the knowledge they have been exposed to. The school had become a lifetime endeavor! (Only for those who were strong enough to succeed.) - Barbara Bruno Lancaster

"Veronicapoe" added on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 27, 2007 at 4:09 a.m.:

Barbara Bruno’s account appears in a 1988 book called Cults and Consequences. The reference in her story is to the 1972 [sic] suicide of Lori F-S. [ed. - See page 7-5]

"Jomo Piñata" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, February 25, 2009:
[Quoting] Somebody
For example those posts connecting suicides to FOF actions are completely lies!!!
Blaming the FOF for those suicides is malicious.
Let’s examine the evidence.

Burton publicly announces,

“Do not try to save anybody here who tries to commit suicide. They shouldn’t be here. And they will strangle you just as some drowning people drown someone who tries to save them.” (October 26, 1971).

In other words, if someone is suicidal in the Fellowship, don’t try to help them, if you do try they will drag you down and strangle you.

I can hardly think of a policy which would promote individual suicides more than this one. If they are in the school and they are suicidal, don’t help them.

Then, in 1972 [sic], “a special meeting was called and it was announced that a woman who had left the school had committed suicide. This was seen as an example of what happens when students do not value the knowledge they have been exposed to. The school had become a lifetime endeavor! (Only for those who were strong enough to succeed.)” Account of Barbara Bruno Lancaster from the book, Cults and Consequences, at [ed. - See page 7-5]

So, to recap:

1. Burton states, if they’re suicidal, don’t help them, they will drag you down and strangle you.

2. A woman (Lore Fisher-Smith) leaves the Fellowship and commits suicide.

3. Burton calls a meeting and states that this is what happens when people don’t value esoteric knowledge, i.e., when they leave the school. Don’t leave the school, it might happen to you. But if you’re suicidal, no one should help you, because you will drag them down and strangle them. If you’re suicidal, you’re on your own.

4. Kevin Kelly, a quadriplegic, has a basically stable life. Burton insists that his prophesies are going to happen and that California is going to fall into the ocean. People are required to quit their jobs and move to Oregon House. Kevin uproots his basically stable but difficult quadriplegic life. The prophesied fall of California does not happen. Kevin kills himself by drowning himself in the river. I am told he was not permitted to have a funeral.

These are two clear examples of the interconnection between Burton’s statements, fellowship policy and suicides. So, Someone, I am interested to know why you believe the suicides are not connected to Burton or the Fellowship.

Others may have more detailed information than I have about Brian Sisler and Kimo Beech. Tell the stories in detail, please.

[ed. - The following obituary appeared in the Daily Independent Journal, April 4-5, 1973. It is also reported that a collection of her last writings titled, Pandora's Box, Writings of Lore Fisher-Smith, was published in 2001.]
FISHER-SMITH — The sudden and untimely death of Lore Fisher-Smith, on Sunday, April 1, 1973 [Monday, April 2, 1973, according to Jordan, her son], comes as a shock to all who knew her. A highly energetic and creatively versatile person, involved in design, dancing, painting and writing — and conducting workshops in these various subjects — Lore contributed much to the young life, especially in this community. One such contribution was a gentle mural of nature, trees particularly, in one of the lower grade rooms in Old Mill School. Active workshops in writing and poetry and body control produced significant results. As a charter member of sight and insight, she participated in exhibitions and in teaching. Lore Fisher-Smith is survived by her husband, John, and three sons, Jordan, Jeremy and Jothan, and her mother, Else Cappel of Berkeley and by her brother, Klaus Capper of Huntsville, Alabama. Friends may visit from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday at RUSSELL AND GOOCH FUNERAL CHAPEL, Mill Valley. The family will be present from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Graveside ceremony Friday at 11 a.m. at Femwood Cemetery, Mill Valley. Memorial gifts may be made to your favorite charity.