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 3, 1988

"A Story of Domination and Sexual Abuse"

[ed. - This account is placed in the timeline approximately when the events described took place.]

"Cult Survivor" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, February 3, 2019:
A Story of Domination and Sexual Abuse

I joined the FOF in February of 1988, when I was 25 years old. In November of 1988 I moved to Apollo (Renaissance at that time) and started working at the winery. I was working 8-10 hours per day, 5-6 days per week, for a salary of $350 per month without a working visa (that’s right, $350 per month — it’s not a typo). After a week or so I was approached by a lady — she told me that I was invited to a “Symposium with the Teacher” that evening. I had no idea what a Symposium was so I asked her and she replied “Oh, it’s an informal dinner just for men. Casual dressing.” After a long day of work at the winery I went home, took a shower and headed to the Goethe Academy (now Galleria Apollo) for my first encounter with my Teacher. When I entered the Academy, Robert came straight to me, kissed me on the lips and said “I was waiting for you dear, I got a fortune cookie recently saying ‘A tall man will enter your life'” (I’m 6’ 2″). He asked me to sit next to him on a sofa in the salon and held my left hand while I was served a strong gin and tonic. After 15 minutes or so we proceeded to the Goethe Room where the Symposium for Robert and another 12 young men was going to happen. I was already a bit tipsy because of the gin and tonic on an empty stomach and the long day of work at the winery, but my state was quite high (no pun intended) because I was meeting my Teacher for the first time and he told me that he was waiting for me (I have a vanity feature). I was asked to sit opposite to Robert — later I discovered that that was an important place — while 2 young men, one a permanent lover and the other a new one, sat on each side of him. During the dinner Robert kept looking at me and spoke several times to me directly and, after with 2 glasses of white wine, a glass of red wine, a glass of dessert wine and finally a glass of cognac (don’t forget the gin and tonic at the beginning) my state was quite high (pun intended). At the end of the dinner I went to the kitchen to have a coffee before going home (I remember walking with difficulty) and was approached by one of Robert’s assistants that told me that Robert wanted to talk to me privately. The assistant said “Follow me” and started walking towards Robert’s bedroom. I followed him without really knowing what I was doing and when I entered the room I saw that Robert was already in bed. He said “Come here, dear. Sat on the bed” and I did as he asked. He placed his hand on my chest and started doing circles with his fingers while saying things like “C Influence sent you to me, remember the fortune cookie”, “Why don’t you remove your clothes and get in the bed”, “Don’t be afraid, it’s just your instinctive center and feminine dominance”, etc. Suddenly he placed his hand on my penis over my pants and started massaging it trying to excite me and get an erection but after 2 or 3 minutes he realized that I was too drunk and that nothing was going to happen in that department, so he said “It’s okay dear, we have plenty of time” and got up, opened the door, and asked one of his assistants to take me home. I remember that I was silent all the way to my place — I felt a mix of shame and embarrassment. I know it seems absurd, but I was not ashamed because a men 20 years older that was supposed to be my “Teacher” tried to seduce me and have sex with me (I’m heterosexual) but because I couldn’t perform my duty with my Teacher — I felt that it was a honor to have been chosen to be his lover and it was my fault that I couldn’t rise to the occasion. I went to sleep feeling guilty and woke up in the morning with the thought “when he calls me again I’m going to do what he asks”. And then… something happened. Two days later a tall guy moved to Apollo and soon after became Robert’s lover. I was friends with him because we are from the same country; one day he told me that Robert had told him that he was waiting for him because he got a fortune cookie saying that a tall guy was going to enter his life… At that moment my feature of vanity said “No! I am the tall guy of the fortune cookie!” and my friend just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Whatever”. I felt humiliated and offended and made the decision to leave Renaissance immediately, but after a couple of days vanity and the queens succeeded and I changed my mind (unfortunately). I hoped that Robert would invite me again to a Symposium or a “Wine Cellar Dinner” (those were diners for 25-30 young men that Robert started to host after he stopped hosting Symposiums — I guess he realized that 25-30 men is better than 12 for hunting purposes) but he never did. After two years I heard a knock on my window in the middle of the night: It was my friend that had “escaped” from the Galleria — he had been living there all that time — because “he couldn’t do that anymore”, he told me. He asked if he could stay with me and I said that it was fine. We talked until the morning (he was in a very disturbed state) and he told me several stories about Robert’s manipulation tactics and deviant sexual habits that I will refrain to mention here because they are second hand and I want to stick to what I experienced myself. In the morning I received a call from Wayne M. asking me if Anthony (not his real name) was at my place (Wayne M. knew we were friends) and when I confirmed that he was there they sent a car to pick him up. After a few days he was sent back to his country because of “psychological problems”. I tried to contact him but his family refused to let me talk to him — I was told that he was undergoing psychiatric treatment and that he was not allowed to talk to anybody, especially from the FOF. After a few months another young man moved to Apollo and became Robert’s lover; at a reception at the Galleria Robert told me “Anthony was payment for him” and kissed his new lover on the forehead.

My aim telling my story was to show the power that a cult leader has over his followers regarding sexual favors (Charles Manson, Jim Jones and Osho, for example, were also extremely manipulative and promiscuous). Fortunately, I was “saved” by some Divine Providence and didn’t become Robert’s sexual slave. I believe that several people that wrote here in this blog about Robert’s sexual abuses have a story similar to mine — the ones that didn’t have the luck to escape and succumbed to Robert’s powers are probably too fucked up to write about their experiences.

Saturday, November 26, 1988

Fellowship winemaster Karl Werner dies at home in Oregon House

[ed. - The Renaissance Vineyard and Winery website states,
"His name was Dr. Karl Werner, and his family boasted 17 generations of winemakers."
Despite such a proud and prominent lineage, most Fellowship members were likely unaware of Karl's children and grandchildren mentioned in the obituary below. Robert Burton demanded that followers dissociate from "life family" and dedicate themselves instead to their "Fellowship family." It appears donations in Karl's memory flowed into Fellowship of Friends coffers.]
Karl A.F. Werner

San Francisco Chronicle
30 Nov 1988
Page B6

A funeral service for Karl A.F. Werner, a winemaster, will be held Saturday in the Yuba County community of Oregon House. Mr. Werner died last Saturday in his home at Renaissance Vineyard and Winery.

Mr. Werner was born in Rheingau, Germany, and came to California in 1972.

In 1976, Mr. Werner became overseer for planting vineyards and constructing the Renaissance winery, owned by the Community of the Fellowship of Friends, a nondenominational church near Oregon House.

Mr. Werner is survived by his wife, Diana, of Renaissance, and children and grandchildren in Germany.

The funeral service will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday at Renaissance. Contributions are preferred to the Karl Werner Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 102, Renaissance, Calif. 95962.

[ed. - Fellowship sculptor Colin Lambert was commissioned to create a monument to Werner. See also "Dr. Karl Werner".]

Friday, July 29, 1988

Suit against Yuba sect leader settled

The Sacramento Bee
Published on July 29, 1988, Page B3

A lawsuit that charged the leader of a Yuba County sect with seducing young men into a life of "degenerative sexual involvement'' has been settled out of court, parties on both sides said Thursday.

Samuel L. Sanders said an agreement was filed early this week that ended his four-year suit against the Fellowship of Friends, located in Oregon House, a town about 20 miles northeast of Marysville.

Sanders' $2.5 million lawsuit charged in 1984 that the fellowship was run for Robert Burton, its spiritual leader, as a "cult-like organization to psychologically hypnotize" young men to "satisfy his voracious appetite for sexual perversion."

Sanders, a former member of the fellowship's board of directors, said he could not comment on a dollar amount, if any, of the settlement because both parties agreed not to disclose terms. "Let me just say I was very happy with the settlement, and there were certain objectives that I accomplished," said Sanders in a phone interview from Los Angeles.

Fellowship president Girard Haven said that by having "agreed to them (settlement terms), you can assume we are satisfied by them."

The fellowship, founded in 1971 [sic], is located in the foothills of Yuba County on 1,300 acres of land. Haven said there are 1,500 members worldwide, with about 300 at Oregon House at any one time. The group's members follow the teachings of turn-of-the-century Russian philosophers George I. Gurdjieff and Peter D. Ouspensky.

Burton has predicted Armageddon. His followers view their retreat as an "ark" of culture with 44 gods who will protect them in a nuclear holocaust, ex-members have said in previous interviews.

Burton has called himself a "god" and an "angel," according to the lawsuit and former members. He feels members are a chosen race superior to ordinary people.

Wednesday, June 1, 1988

European centers asked to make donations in cash

"L. M." wrote on The Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, January 7, 2016:

[ed. - Post was removed at request of author. The poster described traveling with Robert Burton in Europe in the late 1980s. A Center Director handed Robert's Secretary a bag containing cash.

The poster asked the Secretary about this and was told that it is difficult to transfer donations between countries, especially the U.S. For this reason, donations in Europe are requested in cash, and Burton uses the cash in countries where the donations are "harvested." Post date approximate.]

Thursday, February 25, 1988

A conversation with Robert Mondavi about Karl Werner

[ed. - After tasting the 1983 Renaissance Cabernet Sauvignon on February 19th, I had serious doubts about Karl Werner's competence as a winemaker, especially for red wines. (After all, look at what happened to Callaway's red wine program that Karl created.) The wine appears to have spent about two years too long in new German oak barrels.

Tasting the wine a second time, I was convinced the Fellowship could do better. With all the great winemakers available – who would jump at the opportunity to produce the Fellowship's wines – it seems criminal to continue the present style.


I called Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville to ask about Karl's tenure there and learn to what degree he was involved in producing Mondavi’s 1970, 71 and 72 vintages.


Mr. Mondavi returned my call and we spoke briefly. He recalled Karl and said that Karl was brought in because of his expertise with white wines. He said Karl was strong-willed and had definite ideas of how things must be done, which he did not always agree with. He said Karl opposed his idea to leave the reds on the skins for a couple of weeks to gain more extraction. Karl asserted this would ruin the wine. (It later became common practice industry-wide.)


Since those days, Mondavi’s style has changed focus to a lighter, more concentrated wine, as he doesn’t care for “blockbuster” wines. (I mentioned the Renaissance ’83 Cabernet Sauvignon being  more tannic than a Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, which surprised him.) He was also amazed that Renaissance has yet to market a wine.


Being very diplomatic, Mr. Mondavi suggested that Karl was making his statement with his wines and the only question is whether he can gain the audience he needs.]