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.

Thursday, October 5, 1989

Burton's understanding of "influence C" is questioned

[ed. - The video was also posted to Vimeo, with a slightly different introduction.]

"Shard of Oblivion" posted the following on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 20, 2012:
I found this interesting recording, purporting to be a student questioning Burton in a phone conversation in 1989, about how Burton can be sure that Influence C isn’t just the product of his fevered imagination.

[ed. - I have transcribed the text of the video below, making some minor edits.] 
[Author's Introduction] This a tape recording of an "exit interview" between a disgruntled student of The Fellowship of Friends and the leader of that cult, a man named Robert Burton.(rb)
What follows is the second part of that recording. In the first part he was asked how many of his students he had had sex with - he declined to give a figure.
One of his main claims was/is to be in direct communications with 44 disembodied spirits of significant cultural figures from the past.
The student (jh) noticed that he appeared to be suffering from "ideas of reference" and doubted this as a procedure to authenticate the claimed origin of these spooky advisors.
Burton (rb) called his imaginary friends Influence C.
jh wanted to probe Burton as to what method, if any, he used to convince himself that the messages are not the products of his own mind.
This the very coinage of your brain:
This bodiless creation ecstasy
 Is very cunning in.  
Hamlet act 3 scene IV (Oh, yes. Shakespeare was one of Burton's cosmic buddies.)
The recording (which dates from 1989) is poor, an old Walkman with a sucker microphone stuck to the phone. Text is provided to assist the listener to catch all the words of wisdom.
jh: The uh, other thing I'd like to know is what method you use to convince yourself that the messages that you think you're getting from C influence are from the source that you say they are rather than perhaps for example your own mind?
rb: Well...well the Gods reveal themselves to me. I...uh...I do not uh...It's not my station....uh I have to say they reveal themselves (by faith?)....They are forming an ark using me...and uh...they—they use a variety of—a variety of means to communicate they—they actually...um...they have somewhat of a physical-metaphysical presence that they use to communicate. This is a relationship of a man number seven to higher school.
jh: Yes. And did you ever wonder if they might be just something in your own mind?
rb: No of course not. Like my mother's name was Shock. My—my mother's maiden name was Velma Shock.
jh: Yes.
rb: So it's a—it's a very kind of brutal experience verifying influence C (because) they have a heavy hand—it's so long as though they carry a wand in one hand and a club in the other, you are touched by both.
jh: Yes. I mean if you know how easy it is for people to um become convinced of—of mistaken ideas?
rb: No—no I'm quite aware of it John. In search of the miraculous and I have found the miraculous. Something-something we are given...not—not a right apparently you've forgotten but I—I'm not in imagination at all about influence C. It's very—it's a real burden...to carry them, but it's a dear burden and one I would never drop.
jh: I mean you're aware that many people think they are getting messages from strange places.
rb: Oh, I—I know that. Influence C pressures people into reality. You know they...they take people beyond allurement and uh...it's no uh easy thing to bear them. Well dear I guess that's...my time for now. I mean give my love to Barbara and my love to you.
jh: OK. thank you for answering the questions.
rb (or jh): Bye, bye.

Monday, June 12, 1989

The Thomas Easley Letters

"Ames Gilbert" posted on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 26, 2007:
June 12th, 1989
Dear ______
Out of respect and appreciation for our long friendship I write today to inform you of my recent actions.
In the final days of the month of May I posted a rather provocative letter to Robert asking him to apologize to me for seducing and molesting me as a new student. I stated further that I would no longer stand as an accomplice to his crimes by remaining complacent and silent. I have seen too many young men abused by Robert under the banner of love and enlightenment. At the height of Robert’s abuse of me he persuaded me (at Clare Bradford’s house in 1973) to give him a blow job as a necessary step to achieve awakening.
During that time he praised me daily for my talents and my great desire to awaken. But all such praise stopped once I refused to enter a bed with him. I thought then that Robert’s love was only as great as my usefulness to him but I ignored the thought.
It has taken great effort and many years for me to heal myself; to establish the proof within that a man’s worth to himself is greater that his usefulness to others. I don’t know if the Fellowship can heal itself of the same ills, but I do know it needs to. Someday members must face the truth about Robert. He is not all good and wise. Four to five hundred male students have been abused by Robert over the past twenty years. All have been led to believe that they would profit spiritually by succumbing to Robert’s advances. I have verified for myself that self remembering does not hinge on submitting one’s body to the desires of the teacher. I therefore cannot support attitudes and behavior in the Fellowship which justify such acts.
Robert has been teaching in a teapot rather than in the world, he has confused people with the fear of questioning; the fear of losing the school and the gods if they don’t see things his way. He has taught the opposite of tolerance and compassion. How much growth of the soul can be expected from so closed and restricted an environment? Everything that Robert says, all institutions in the form of the school which lead in the end to satisfying his personal desires must be questioned.
To survive in the school requires that a student choose either to observe Robert’s corruption and remain silent or to justify it. For those who choose to justify it, all understanding of the system and self remembering must be made to support Robert’s behavior. (Like Joann Keahey telling new students, and old, that Robert’s homosexuality is “One of the school’s greatest blessings”.) For those who remain silent a right understanding can develop but little room has been made in the school for expressing such an understanding. Most conflict between students arises between the differences of those two groups.
Generally Robert will give his time and attention only to those who provide him with either physical, financial or organizational support. Then those who believe that awakening depends on agreement with the teacher will do all they can to fulfill one or more of the three categories.

All this is not to say that Robert is without merit. I would not deny that he has taught me great things. It is the aggrandizing of his faults along with his virtues that I object to. Idealistic and troubled young people are quite suggestible and very vulnerable. Robert has taken undue advantage of the young much too frequently while we older students just sat by and watched. In many ways we are as much to blame as he is for the permission of this vice. And certainly it must be clear that the greatness of the school has been reduced in proportion to our allowance of this vice.
So - in response to all this I stepped out in the open, stated in no uncertain terms what my point of view is and asked for an apology. Robert, with his customary response of calling such actions instinctive, promptly called and asked me to leave the school. And of course he offered me no apology. He did admit, years ago, to molesting me but now as it was then, he felt it was his right to do so.
I had hoped for an improvement in Robert’s attitude. (In many ways he is very insecure, this is why he is so afraid of a challenge.) But alas, he remains convinced in his own mind that he is the second Christ and I doubt that he is. (C–influence may have set him up with that just like they did with the depression and how many other such things.) Personally I just can’t imagine Jesus asking his students to sleep with him, to erect his penis; to titillate his flesh. What then of his behavior if he is not the Christ?
My desire to know the mysteries began long before I joined the Fellowship. My work in the school has enhanced that desire and I’ve even managed to raise the level of my consciousness. So I can’t complain on a personal level. Now I will work alone until such time as C-influence decides to give me company. And I don’t mind this, my delight in the present is wholly satisfying and it’s nice to be free of the need for outside approval.
One last thought - I will not close myself off from friends. Anytime that you wish to see, write or talk to me I will be pleased to hear from you.
With my deepest regards
I am, yours sincerely,
(s) Thomas Easley

Thomas Easley's form letter received by the editor in 1991:
April 28th, 1991

Dear ______

First I must ask you to pardon the brevity of this letter.
After so long an interval between us a longer book size letter would
be more appropriate. 

I've been back in America for about nine months now. (The
enclosed article will give you a bit of idea about my activities.)
One of the reasons for my return to America is to expose Burton to
the media and hopefully the courts. While I was in India I wrote to
Burton demanding that he stop molesting young male students. His
response was to kick me out of the F.O.F.. I was one of Burtons
victims in 1972.

It has been difficult for me to find people willing to talk
about Burtons abuses. If you feel up to it I would like to hear
from you. So far B_uce H_lft is the only victim, other than myself
who has to come forward. I know this is not a happy subject and I
wouldn't be speaking about it myself if it were not for the fact
the he is still molesting young men today. I feel the truth must
come out. A silent truth give lies a voice. Burton is not a
Prophet, not the Avatar of the age, not a goddess, not the Second
Christ. He is cunning, deceitful and charismatic. That we learned
from him is a credit to our own desire for knowledge of the
mysteries. Burton is a dictator, not a teacher. His manipulation
of our minds, hearts and souls served the appetites of his own ego
agenda, not the needs of our hopes for spiritual gain.

Well I guess that's it. Again, if you feel up to it, drop me
a note or call me.

Yours Sincerely,

(s) Thomas Easley

Saturday, February 18, 1989

Richard Focazio dies from AIDS

Fellowship of Friends member Richard Focazio

Richard died one day after his 50th birthday. He was a member for over fourteen years. He had worked for Vidal Sassoon in San Francisco and, in the early days, provided hair salon services for members living at or visiting Renaissance.

(Photo by Jorge Ricaurte)