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.

Sunday, May 31, 1981

May 1981 Notes

Fellowship of Friends Court of the Caravans Iris Walk
The Court of the Caravans Iris Walk, April 1981 (Photo: T. Campion)

"Renaissance Vine" newsletter [summarized]
Robert’s letter to San Francisco Chronicle (written April 28)
Concerts:
May 15 and 16: Menahem Pressler and Oscar Shumsky
May 17 and 18: Menahem Pressler
June 6 and 7: American String Quartet
1,373 members
Photo: entrance to Renaissance

Other Notes

May 8:
Robert sought to order "4TH WAY" personalized license plates. They were not available.
May 11:
"Maxwell’s Plumb" restaurant opens at Ghirardelli Square, in San Francisco. Fellowship members were involved in the construction. [ed. - The flamboyant owner, Warner LeRoy, had something in common with Burton – love of glitz, crystal, stained glass, porcelains, Lalique, Tiffany, etc.]

Friday, May 1, 1981

Robert Burton responds to San Francisco Chronicle

[ed. - Apparently Robert Burton responded to the Chronicle's story with a Letter to the Editor, dated April 28, 1981. This was reported in the May 1981 "Renaissance Vine." It appears the Chronicle did not publish the letter. A review of their archives shows only the following related Letter to the Editor, transcribed in its entirety, published in the April 28, 1981 issue of the Chronicle. It is reported that Burton requested that Fellowship members not display photographs of their "life families" inside their residences. His effort to destroy family ties is one of Burton's most grievous crimes.]
Life in a Cult

Editor - My husband and I are extremely grateful to Michael Taylor for his article last week [April 20] on the cult known as the Fellowship of Friends, which for years worked our son 20 hours a day without holidays, paying him $50 a month. For the first year he was there he was forbidden to contact us and when he was married there we were not allowed to be present.

All expression of negative emotion was frowned upon, causing him eventually to sink into a deep depression which prevented him from working. Thank God this meant that he was no longer useful to cult leader Robert Burton and he was urged to leave.

It has been two years now and even after much intensive psychiatric care he is only beginning to re-learn simple communications skills. So much for the Gurdjieffians' allegedly higher consciousness.

NAME WITHHELD
[ed. - The following is a perspective from within the Fellowship of Friends at the time. The following was included in a letter to the author's family. The author's name is withheld.]
The Fellowship has been receiving a bit of attention lately after appearing in an article on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle recently. It seems that a few former members found that they could capitalize on suspicions that have been cast upon “cults” in the last two years or so. Now we find certain people and some of the media referring to us as a cult, and immediately there are the preconceived notions and the fears that are directed towards such groups. I think though that it will be the people who know us, the merchants, the local citizens that will prove to be our strongest support. As for the rest, they will imagine what they wish - there is not much we can do for that, except maybe try to explain our goals to those who are willing to listen.