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.

Tuesday, June 19, 1984

Samuel L. Sanders Lawsuit summary

[ed. - See also Samuel Sanders Letter and Suit Against Yuba Sect Leader Settled.]
On June 6, 1984, Case Number 36937 was filed in Superior Court of California, County of Yuba, by Samuel L. Sanders, Plaintiff, versus Defendants: Fellowship of Friends, Inc., a corporation; Robert Burton; Miles Barth; Frank Annis; Gerard Haven; Helga Ruth Mueller; Abraham Goldman; Charles Frank; Charles Randall; Clair Bowen; and Does 1 through 50, inclusive.

The Lawsuit Complaints:

1. Fraud

2. Conspiracy to defraud

3. Breach of fiduciary duty

4. Conspiracy to breach fiduciary duty

5. Injunction

6. Damages

[ed. - From the ICSA website, link no longer functional.]
Fellowship of Friends

Rabbit Creek (California) Journal

June 19, 1984

Samuel L. Sanders, a former member of the Fellowship of Friends, led by onetime elementary school teacher Robert Burton and based in part on the teachings of Russian mystic G.I. Gurdjieff and his student P.D. Ouspensky, has brought suit for $2.75 million against Burton, 8 other named defendants, and 50 John Does for crimes ranging from fraud to sexual perversion.

The complaint, filed June 6 in Yuba County Superior Court of California, charges that Burton and the Fellowship’s board of directors conspired to funnel money out of the Fellowship for their own enrichment. It also alleges that Burton used mind control to bring the membership under complete submission to his will, that he sodomized young male members, sometimes by force, resulting in “serious and in some cases irreparable mental and physical damage,” and that the board of directors adopted a resolution endorsing his behavior. An injunction prohibiting Burton from engaging in “perverted sexual conduct” without informing partners that such activity is not part of the Fellowship’s “Fourth Way” philosophy is also sought.

Fellowship of Friends, which claims 1,500 members worldwide, is headquartered at the 1,000 acre Renaissance complex, which includes a winery and an art collection valued at $1 million, located in Oregon House, California. Mr. Burton and the other defendants denied the charges brought in the suit and said they would “stand on the reputation they have built with the community.”

"Cathie L." wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, June 29, 2015:
How I Left the School and Got a Life

In 1984-85, I was working at a law office in Marysville. One of the attorneys there was working with the FOF on defending the suit that had been been filed by Sanders et al. I had access to privileged information, depositions, by which I learned what had “allegedly” been going on at the Blake Cottage/Galleria. I put “allegedly” in quotes because it was intuitively clear to me that these allegations were true.

I had lived in the Court of the Caravans in the late 1970s, before the Blake Cottage was torn down. I remember seeing young male students walking back and forth from the cottage on the road to the Lincoln Lodge, or outside my caravan window, cutting across the field in the small hours of the morning. At the time I thought nothing of it, but when I read the depositions, one of which was by a man I personally knew, it all started to fall into place. Prior to that, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I remember thinking what a hypocrite Robert was, with all anti-infrasex exercises like “no sex before marriage” and “no relationships for one year after ending one.” I had thought he was celibate! Poor little fool, oh yeah, I was a fool, oh yeah.

I left in 1985, around the time MB [Miles Barth] left. I moved to the Bay Area where my parents had a home; I hadn’t severed all ties with them, fortunately. I got a job at a law firm in San Francisco, where another FOF student happened to work. Thank goodness for networking!

[Coincidentally with post #47 about the failed rocket launch today, I was working at this San Francisco law firm when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in January 1986. I remember the employees assembling in the conference room to watch the newscast, and the sense of deep sorrow and shock I felt, especially about Christa McAuliffe’s death. Another story….]

MB held a large meeting for former students around that time (late 1985- early 1986?) He spoke to the group about his reasons for leaving, but I can’t recall what he said. Maybe what he said was, “I’m not going to talk about my reasons for leaving.” [ed. - Exactly.]

He announced that he intended to start a series of small groups if anyone was interested, to continue discussing the Fourth Way ideas that he felt had value, whatever could be salvaged from the wreckage, I guess. He seemed to want to continue teaching. I signed up for the groups and went to several meetings at MB’s apartment in San Francisco. This was extremely valuable to me as a way of processing the departure from the cult and maintaining some kind of connection with ideas I still believed were useful, and with people who shared an interest in them. Eventually I moved on.

In the mid-1990s, Stella started an email group for former members on a listserv (some of you Internet old-timers may remember what a listserv is!) There was a lot of material “processed” there as well. One project that grew out of Stella’s list was a chapbook of poetry by list members. It was called Virtual Exposure. I still have a copy of it. In 1995, someone from the toadhall list published a directory, with names, former names, and addresses, an interesting bit of FOF history and memorabilia, which I also still have.

Ames Gilbert wrote: “We also admitted that, though we had new friends, they were few and far between, and even fewer with which one could have a conversation like we were having right then and at the level of what we felt we were communicating.”

That’s true for me too. You had to be there to really understand it. The ties run deep. Maybe that’s something many former cult members, and perhaps soldiers, survivors of concentration camps and other shared trauma, have in common.

Wednesday, June 13, 1984

[ed. - An article by Jeff Ackerman titled, "Chief Sex Suit Hits Cult" appears in the Yuba City Valley Herald. The article is referenced in "A long farewell to members of the Fellowship's Milan, Italy center."]

Saturday, June 9, 1984

'Friends' Chief Sued In Sex, Funds Charges

Appeal-Democrat, June 9, 1984

The head of the Fellowship of Friends is accused in a lawsuit filed by a former director of the organization of being a sexual pervert who has used his position to prey on young, male members and to milk the organization's coffers for his own benefit.

And the suit charges that Fellowship leader Robert Burton has developed a paranoid "psychological set [sic]" resembling "the murderous teachings of Jonestown."

Former Fellowship director Samuel L. Sanders seeks a court order prohibiting Burton from "participating in perverted sexual conduct" with members without first informing them in writing "that such perverted sexual activities have no relationship with The Fourth Way or philosophies" of the Fellowship.

Sanders also asks the court to prohibit Burton and Fellowship directors from entering into any financial transactions without first informing the membership and obtaining approval of a majority of the board of directors. In addition, he seeks $2.5 million punitive damages and $250,000 general and special damages.

Named defendants in the suit filed in Yuba County Superior Court are Burton and Fellowship directors Miles Barth, Frank Annis, Gerard [sic] Haven, Helga Ruth Mueller, Abraham Goldman, Charles Frank, Charles Randall and Clair Bowen, and 50 John Does.

The Fellowship of Friends is a philosophical-religious organization headquartered in Oregon House, where it owns more than 1,000 acres of land and operates a vineyard and winery. It has more than 1,500 active members, according to the suit filed by Sanders.

According to the suit, Sanders joined the Fellowship in Los Angeles in 1975 and devoted "thousands of hours of his time without compensation...made money donations...exceeding $100,000, and expended
additional of his an amount exceeding $50,000."

It was not until last November, according to the complaint, that Sanders "was reliably informed for the first time that Burton was a sexual pervert and was unlawfully preying upon and doing injury to young men who were members of the defendant corporation."

Sanders was "reliably informed," according to the complaint, that Burton "was and had been from the onset of the formation of the defendant corporation, using his god-figure role as teacher, as well as the philosophical, emotional and intellectual aspects of The Fourth Way, in a manner calculated to gain absolute dominion and control over the victims of his perverted sexual appetites."

The complaint alleges, "That a number of young men who had been forcefully and unlawfully seduced by Burton had suffered serious, and in some cases irreparable, mental and physical damage..."

Sanders learned, according to the complaint, that several Fellowship members, both male and female, "were not only aware of Burton's ongoing acts of unlawful perversion, they were actually aiding and abetting such activities by (1) recruiting likely candidates therefor and (2) secretly conspiring with Burton to use the philosophies and instrumentalities of (the Fellowship) to further and encourage those activities."

The complaint says Saunders brought his allegations before Fellowship directors March 4 and "was astounded to learn for the first time that several members of the board of directors had known of Burton's sexual activities and conquests within the membership...for a significant period of time and had actually aided and abetted such acts."

Sanders also was "astounded to learn," according to the complaint, that other Fellowship directors "formed a unanimous coalition supporting the status quo and thereby in effect endorsing and ratifying Burton's past and supposedly future sexual forays among the young male members of the organization."

The board adopted a resolution stating "that the Founding Minister be informed by the President that the board is reviewing his personal relationships, that any such relationships be consensual and that the Board is considering the formal discussion of the Founding Minister's personal relationships within the general membership of the Church," according to the complaint.

Shortly thereafter, Sanders was [released?] out of the organization by Burton, and the action was ratified by the Fellowship's ministerial committee March 18, according to the complaint.

The complaint charges Burton "and his co-conspirators" with concocting a scheme to:

"a. Use and abuse the fiduciary relationship between the defendant Burton and the defendant corporation on the one hand and the members and contributors to the defendant corporation on the other hand for their personal unlawful gain, and

"b. To use and abuse the fiduciary relationship existing between the defendant Burton, as founding minister, and selective members of the defendant corporation for the express purpose and intent of performing unlawful and perverted sexual acts upon the persons of said members."

"In recent days," according to the complaint, "and under the guise that financial, political, and social Armageddon is imminent throughout the world, the defendants without the advice, consent or knowledge of the membership...have been liquidating, diverting and secreting the income and assets of the defendant corporation in a manner calculated to deny its members access to or use of said diverted assets and to deny its creditors just compensation for the debts of defendant corporation.

"This course of conduct has as its calculated objective the enrichment of Burton and some or all of the other individual defendants named herein," the complaint alleges.

"In recent days," the complaint alleges, "Burton has developed a psychological set, as a direct and proximate result of his personal evolution in the dissemination of the false and fraudulent premises upon which he has constructed and operated the defendant a paranoic level closely identified with the murderous teachings of 'Jonestown', expecting and insisting that the 'true' membership of the Fellowship blindly follow and adhere to his self destructive beliefs."