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.")

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.

Saturday, December 23, 1978

Alex Horn's "Strange School"

[ed. - Robert Earl Burton learned the guru business from Alex Horn, founder of The Everyman Theater and the Theatre of All Possibilities. Brutal beatings aside, much of Horn's "esoteric teaching and practices" would be incorporated into Burton's "Fellowship of Friends", a new path he called "a school of love".]

"Real-Life Drama in S.F. Theater Group" , San Francisco Chronicle, December 23, 1978
A strange San Francisco drama group has just closed its theater and its school at a time when some of its frightened ex-members have complained they were subject to a program of brainwashing and violence combined with the principles of two arcane Russian mystics.

The offbeat group is called the Theatre of All Possibilities, and until it closed - ostensibly for the
holidays - it had staged its shows and operated its after hours self improvement school at 150 Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco.
 [Read more at survivorshandbook.com]

San Francisco Progress articles on Alex Horn and the Theatre of All Possibilities (formerly The Everyman Theater):
"Theater group, cult or stage?"

What is the Theater of All Possibilities?

Allegations have been made by onetime members of the Theater of All Possibilities which suggest that the theater group has cult characteristics using psychological humiliation and corporal punishment to keep members in line.

According to taped statements from several individuals who have asked that their identities be kept confidential, the theater is really an Ouspensky-Gurdjieff grounded commune where followers are expected to adhere to the dictates of teacher leaders, Alex Horn and his wife, Sharon Gans-Horn.

Since the Horns and the theater attorney have refused requests for a meeting, there is no way of either proving or disproving the following allegations:

• Theater members allegedly are required to pay tuitions of $200 a month to the Horns. Such payments are made in cash with no receipts issued.

• Members are allegedly assigned ticket-selling quotas, and those who fail to meet them are administered corporal punishment, ostensibly to promote their growth and development.

• Teachers allegedly issue directives concerning marriage and child birth and those who do not marry or produce a child within the given time limit are ordered out of the movement.

• Unquestioning loyalty to the teachers and total dependence on their leadership allegedly is fostered by
psychological humiliation and other brainwashing techniques.

It has also been alleged that at least one, and possibly as many as three, commune-type ranches are connected with the Theater of All Possibilities, and that the questionable activities involved in the “growth process” are accelerated at these locations.
[Read more at survivorshandbook.com]

Articles in The San Francisco Progress series:

"Theater group, cult or stage?", The San Francisco Progress, December 22, 1978
"'Theater of All Possibilities' deserves a second look", The San Francisco Progress, January 10, 1979
"Closer Look at the Theater", The San Francisco Progress, January 12, 1979
"Horn's followers at the 'Theater'", The San Francsico Progress, January 14, 1979
"What are the answers to cultism?", The San Francisco Progress, February 25, 1979

[ed. - Curiously, it was during the same era that another theater company emerged, this one on the East Coast. It too professed to be following in the Fourth Way tradition, with similar results. A former member wrote the following. Visit Upper Lobby's blog.]

"Upper Lobby" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, January 3, 2014:
Hi fellow travelers and Happy New Year. Although I have heard of the FoF group and Burton over the years I have never had an interest in contacting anyone. A good friend linked me to your sight and I hope it is alright to comment here.

What fascinates me is the similarity between various faux 4th Way Gurdjieff groups. My own group, well, not mine, but the group I was involved with for almost 15 years existed in the Boston area. We all thought we were very connected with the Gurdjieff Foundation. We had been invited to visit Michel DeSalzmann in Europe on a number of occasions and he visited us. Turned out that by the mid-80’s he had vowed never to have anything to do with us ever again. If we only knew.

Considering that our “leader” was a homosexual predator, abusive and manipulative into most of the family relationships and we had ourselves the perfect 4th Way Group Storm!

I’m curious what charges may have been filed against Burton and on what grounds? Was there anything successful? There is a blog that outlines many of the abuses of our own little Gurdjieff group that has been around for about two years. We were a theatre group that performed the Le Grand David Magic Company.

At any rate, I hope it’s ok to comment here. I don’t want to crash your party but it’s nice to know there are other survivors who are seeking to make sense of all the non-sense. Peace.

Upper Lobby

Monday, December 18, 1978

Dressing up in gowns, cameos and tuxedos

[ed. - Robert Burton has always taken great pleasure in dressing his followers and, really, managing every aspect of their lives.]

[Former member's journal entry, December 18, 1978:]
"During the past week, a large quantity of used tuxedos have been brought to Renaissance where they are being sold at the "Royal Renaissance Formal Wear Shop" [the barn]. I was able to purchase an almost complete tuxedo set  [including shoes, but less bow tie and studs] for about forty dollars."

"xeeena" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 21, 2007:
Comrade – ”Sometimes I wonder how many people reading the blog have just flat-out said “no” to Robert Burton. And I wonder what his reaction to that was. Probably not a good reaction, but just curious.”

————————————————————————–

Funny you should ask. I happen to have another story about that very topic. I believe it was in 1993. I had set up a sewing studio on my property where Nette and myself and a few others worked on theatre costumes and other projects, some for the Fellowship of Friends and some private. Robert started buying ballgowns at consignment shops and gifting them to his favorite women students. He asked Nette to help the women select their gowns and to make any needed alterations. We had a rack of gowns and women were coming over all the time trying them on. I guess Robert decided he really liked buying women’s clothing because he started giving them to all the women who were around. Pretty soon all the racks and hooks in the room were full of gowns. One day we got a call that Robert was going to come over to visit the octave. What was interesting was that it was arranged for about half a dozen women to be there at the same time so that he could be sufficiently thanked and adored while he was there. I really couldn’t bear his presence in my room. I just kept sewing at my sewing machine and barely acknowledged his presence. Shortly after this we got a phone call that Robert had purchased a lot more gowns and they were going to be brought over. I put my foot down and told Nette that there really wasn’t enough room for anymore. She agreed and called and talked to Robert about it. He suggested we move them into another student space and she told him that it should be moved onto Fellowship property. He sent a female student over (no not LT this time) who showed us all the places we could put more gowns. She wanted us to hang them from the ceiling! I told her thanks but no thanks. Robert had the gowns moved to the town hall cloak room and punished Nette (and me too I guess, though I felt I was treated pretty much as a nonentity in all this) by taking the octave away from her and putting someone else in charge. I was pretty much out of the school emotionally by this time and officially left not too long after this.

"brucelevy" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 22, 2007:

9 Nuthead

Which reminds me of the time the first mass tuxedos octave began. This was when Via Del Sol it was “the ranch”. RB bought out a tuxedo rental firm. They were all put up at “the barn” and all the salaried students were required to buy one. I remember everyone reluctantly jamming themselves into the room to find parts of tuxs to try on. It was theater of the absurd. Of course they were almost all the same passe styles, some fairly worn. I hated mine and rarely failed to find an excuse to not attend functions purely concocted so RB could stand there and look at the herd for sexual culling. We looked like penguins. That’s when RB started buying shirt studs to bribe students with, along with the cameos. It was the same time salaried students with glasses were directed to get contacts, whether they wanted them or not. I tried mine on once and said fuck it. There wasn’t any area of one’s life at the ranch (or raunch) that was one’s own.

"Ill Never Tell" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 23, 2007:

10 brucelevy:

Bruce, with the risk of revealing this poster's true identity, let me go so far as to say that I know how the ‘tuxedo octave’ was conducted. RB did not buy out a tuxedo rental firm. The retired (read: old and unwanted) formal wear from rental firm(s) was/were negotiated for on a consignment basis. Complete outfits were sold for $44, as I remember. What was not claimed/bought was returned to source. The rest, as you state it, was accurate and I agree ‘was theater of the absurd.’

"Was KathleenW" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 24, 2007:
I have a very small story.

Did anyone who was around during the Age of the Cameo learn that their cameo appraised at exactly 1/3 the price they paid for it?

I decided to sell mine after I left. After I had it appraised by a reputable jeweler, I spoke with others who had the same experience, and the numbers were the same — the appraised retail value was 1/3 what was paid (to the FoF) for it.

I clearly remember being approached about buying it. “Robert would like to know if you feel ready to have a cameo.”

Gosh, golly, I sure didn’t want to say that I’m not ready for something the teacher thinks I should have.

I had the first one for about a week, then the same inner circle person approached me and said that Robert felt a different one would be more appropriate for me. The second one was nearly twice the cost of the first one.

I don’t remember the exact details about this next part, but there was some convoluted transaction with the exchange. I didn’t just exchange the cameos and pay more money. I think I gave the first one back, paid the entire amount for the second cameo, then received the cost of the first cameo directly from the student it was sold to next.

A receipt was included with the second one that appeared to be from a jeweler in Europe. The receipt said that it was made in the 1700s in England. When I had it appraised they told me it was made in Italy (showed me a mark that indicated this), probably in the 1920′s.

"dick moron" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 24, 2007:

#235 Was Kathleen W.[above]

Ah, the cameo era. RB, the patron saint of shopping. Why not a cameo for every lady? Such a thrill to shop for someone else, with their money. This happened so much. Any student who happened to have a little money they were not using, and let RB know about it, can probably contribute a little story about how they were assisted in gradually blowing it on on pricey fashion accessories, fine leatherbound books encrusted with semi-precious stones, ostrich skin Hermes bags, shoes, belts, whips etc.. And, RB would select everything for them. I will never forget observing him slowly coerce a very adult professionally successful student into buying an expensive briefcase that the student did not like or want. Guess who won?

Does anyone remember the details of the time (during the cameo/tuxedo set era) that a member of the entourage neglected to declare some expensive jewelry purchased in Europe and RB and party were submitted to all kinds of searches by U.S. Customs. You can imagine the places they would look for hidden jewelry.

"waskathleenw" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 27, 2007:
I have a question related to a story I told awhile back about the era of the cameo. I related that my cameo was appraised at 1/3 of what I paid, and I learned that other students also paid three times the appraised value.

I didn’t include this next part because for me it’s hearsay.

I was told that Robert Burton had an”arrangement” with at least one European jeweler. The arrangement was that the jeweler would write up false receipts for the cameos, and when Robert resold them for three times the value, the profit would be shared with the jeweler(s).

This took place in 1984, and I can’t remember who it was that told me this, but I do remember that it was someone I respected — someone who was already out of the Fellowship of Friends but knew something about the situation.

Has anyone else heard something like this?

"xeeena" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 27, 2007:
I have a little cameo story from around 1979 or 80. We went on a group tour to Europe with Robert who was in his cameo period. He had found one in London he liked so he had a female yes person take us (me and my husband) to the jeweler to look at it. I was hoping to find an excuse not to buy it because we really didn’t have the money for it. This cameo was a real monster– it was about the size of a saucer. We left without it and went back to the hotel in a taxi. The student who took us was fuming the whole way back. Maybe she had a cut in the deal but at the time it appeared that she felt she had gone out of her way to show us the cameo and we were quite rude not to buy it. Robert behaved much better. When he asked me about it I told him it was too big for me to wear and he agreed and said he would find someone else to buy it. It was never again suggested that I look at another cameo, much to my relief.

"Wouldnt You Like To Know" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 27, 2007:
waskathleenw ~2(6)#223 [above]:

I cannot comment on the validity, or lack thereof, of the false pretenses in the cameo dealings. (It would not surprise me in the slightest, though, as many of the possessions of, and through, the Fellowship of Friends were/are bought and paid for over and over again by various individuals and centers to satisfy the insatiable greed of you-know-who. Usually the price paid is determined by what the buyer could afford more than the value of the item.) However:

Antique and jewelry dealers are notorious for their shady dealings and what you suggest is a frequent strategy. Robert Earl Burton is expert at many of the tricks and does not hesitate to use them whenever and wherever possible. Not having a conscience makes almost anything a possibility.

Also, Robert Earl Burton has made many errors in his dealings, both personal and on behalf of the Fellowship of Friends. Some at very high dollar consequences; like forgeries in the fine arts realm.

Appraisals: You are probably aware that most retailers strive for this type of structure: Retail: $100 has a wholesale of $50 and a cost of $25. So, selling at wholesale is a 100% markup and a 50% profit margin. Selling at retail is 300% markup and a 75% profit margin. This is generally used in antiques, jewelry and art.
Lesser profit margins are accepted but the above is a rule-of-thumb. Bigger profit margins than the above are not unheard of. When it comes to appraisals, what is the appraisal for?: retail, wholesale, cost, insurance purposes, lending purposes, replacement value, etc. If something is irreplaceable and/or one-of-a-kind, just think what that does to the appraised value. Cameos are that sort of thing, or at least people would like to think so, so shady dealings can happen easily.

Caveat Emptor: Let the buyer beware.

"waskathleenw" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 27, 2007:
228, Wouldn’t You Like to Know [above],

Thank you for the insights into that world. What you say fits with other things I observed back then — not just my personal jewelry situation.

I remember a set of Wedgwood tea service that was shipped to the Hawaii center along with an invoice. We weren’t asked if we wanted it — we were told it was coming and how much money to send. I’m pretty sure that when the center closed it went to another center who paid for it again. The Rent-A-Wedgwood octave.

227, xeena [above],

When he asked me about it I told him it was too big for me to wear and he agreed and said he would find someone else to buy it.

——————————

Interesting choice of words. Not “perhaps there is someone else who would enjoy having it,” but that he would find someone else to buy it.

Friday, December 1, 1978

December 1978 Notes

"Renaissance Vine" newsletter [summarized]
December Concerts
Heiichiro Ohyama, viola
Eudice Shapiro, violin
Telluride String Quartet
Diane Gilfether, soprano
James Schoepflin, clarinet
Lazlo Varga, cello
Nancy Allen, harp and Ransom Wilson, flute
As a habit, the Teacher has suggested members join their real family at Renaissance for all major holidays.

Other Notes

December 18:
During the past week, a large quantity of used tuxedos have been brought to Renaissance where they have been being sold at the "Royal Renaissance Formal Wear Shop" [in the barn]. This, in preparation for the concert marathon that was about to begin.
Robert not dining in the Meissen Room. He apparently is on a diet.

At Renaissance, from December 18th through January 1st, there are daily evening concerts. Residents are encouraged to attend each concert.
December 19:
The hours between 7:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. today are designated for "good householder." [Renaissance residents are to take care of personal affairs. A rare break in the work schedule.] 
December 28
Though the arts are divine, they are rivaled and surpassed by human kindness. – Robert