Introduction


Presented in reverse chronology, this history stretches from the present back to the Fellowship's 1970 founding, and beyond.
(See "Blog Archive" in the sidebar below.) It draws from many sources, including The Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the former Fellowship of Friends wiki project, cult education and awareness sites, news archives, and from the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

The portrait that emerges stands in stark contrast to sanitized versions presented on the Fellowship's array of
alluring websites, and on derivative sites created by Burton's now-estranged
disciple, Asaf Braverman.

Wednesday, May 5, 1993

'Cults' - Predators or victims of persecution?

[ed. - From The Appeal-Democrat, May 5, 1993]

Photos captions:
LEFT: Fellowship founder Robert Burton. Reclusive, private    RIGHT: Ex-member Thomas Easley. Claims molestation

(APPEAL-DEMOCRAT) EDITOR'S NOTE

 As the long stand-off at the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas, played itself out before the nation, The Appeal-Democrat was researching cult-like activity in our area. Very little is clear about "cults," but two things are: Members of these out-of-the-mainstream religious or quasi-religious groups don't want their organizations described as cults; and members of mainstream churches and the general public insist on doing just that. Webster defines "cult" as: formal religious veneration; a system of religious beliefs and ritual; a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also, its body of adherents; ... great devotion to a person, idea or thing; ... a usually small circle of persons united by devotion or allegiance to an artistic or intellectual movement or figure ... "

The Appeal-Democrat's investigation began when we received complaints from former members about the leader of the Philadelphia Hills group in the Yuba Foothills near Dobbins. The investigation spread to the Fellowship of Friends in the Oregon House area, and finally included a look back at the Free Love Ministries group, headquartered near Gridley in the 1980s and now believed to be located somewhere in New Mexico.



Former Fellowship member claims Burton seduced him

By Hazel Whitman
A-D Staff Writer

Thomas Easley's life literal turned upside down in 1971, when he hurt his back during a skiing accident. He said that while recovering he began an 18-year association that would topple his world once more, but that this upheaval struck more than just his body.

That association was with the Oregon House-based Fellowship of Friends, a group that describes itself as both philosophical and religious in nature. Easley said he was drawn to the group's use of an old Russian body of thought that prescribes hard work as the means to fulfillment.

Easley, now 43 and living in New Delhi, India, says the elite post he once held near the group's leader and founder, Robert Burton, was in reality no honor. Instead, he said, it unlocked the door to a nightmarish world of sexual manipulation, guilt and confusion.

"He (Burton) seduced and molested me when I just joined the group," Easley said. "I am one of his victims. He said he is a female goddess in a male's body."

Three other ex-followers of the spiritual group join Easley in alleging that Burton used his position of spiritual ascendance to psychologically coerce sexual favors from 18- to 22-year-old heterosexual male members.

Burton, 53, is called "the teacher" by devotees. He is in Europe and is unavailable for comment. His attorney, Abraham Goldman, staunchly denies that any wrongdoing has taken place. Goldman said ex-members may have hidden reasons for speaking out against the group that has 520 members locally and about 1,800 worldwide.

"Former members usually have an agenda, and it's usually their own private agenda," Goldman said, adding that Easley may want publicity because he is writing a book.

The lawyer said Easley had demanded a $50,000 payment, and said if he was not paid he would do everything in his power to malign, defame and destroy the Fellowship.

"This, of course, my clients would not agree to, and as a result Mr. Easley and his associates have continued and increased their hate campaign against my clients at every opportunity," Goldman stated. "It may be of interest to you that Mr. Easley repeatedly threatened to... [ed. - Article cropped, remainder of sentence missing.]

"In order to develop spiritually, he (Burton) said you have to give yourself to him physically," Easley said. "Robert Burton can have anybody he wants anywhere and any place. He turns over these kids as fast as he can in three to six months. I want Burton exposed and put in jail."

Easley said when he was finally feeling psychologically strong enough to report Burton's activities to law enforcement officials it was too late for any legal action because more than a year had passed.

"We have received your letter regarding the Fellowship of Friends," wrote Yuba County District Attorney Charles D. O'Rourke to Easley on Feb. 14, 1991. "Unfortunately, there is nothing contained that gives rise to criminal prosecution because of the time elapsed."

Easley said that he occupied a special position of trust with Burton during the 18 years he belonged to the Fellowship. He said he worked with Burton to expand the group and was employed as Burton's personal chauffeur and secretary.

"I was 22 when it happened to me," Easley said. "He looks for somebody that's naive (and) goes after heterosexual boys. I think he gets a thrill out of getting these pure kids.

"He would say 'Goodness, will you please massage my shoulder?' " Easley said. "Eventually he gets the boy alone at night in his bed.

"I recently met a boy from London that was on Robert's list, he was trying to work on him. The boy finally told me that Burton was trying to hold his hand. I told him that is how he works and the boy stopped it from going any further. The worst thing for a normal man is having a homosexual man attack you."

Easley said that he, along with most group members, held the belief that Burton was a more advanced person than the rest of mankind - and this led to submission.

After he left the Fellowship, Easley had a change of heart and demanded an apology from Burton. In correspondence with Easley in 1990, Goldman said that Burton would apologize for his actions toward him.

"You must recall that I asked Robert for an apology," wrote Easley to Goldman on May 16, 1990. "Rather than apologize, Robert added an additional insult by asking me to leave the F.O.F. Fortunately for me the work is not confined to the Fellowship."

"I spoke with Robert about your letter at some length today," replied Goldman on June 9, 1990. "He is willing to send you an apology. But as his lawyer, to do my job for him and the Fellowship, I will ask you (Easley) to sign some papers as well, to properly document and legally confirm that you will not later sue Robert, and that the apology cannot be used by others in the future."

Goldman said that Burton had done nothing wrong and he only offered the apology out of "purely humanitarian motivations," as a way to help Easley feel better - and not for any alleged mistreatment. He further states that Easley has a history of being "extreme and unstable."

Another fellowship member, practicing psychotherapist Walter Friedman, agrees with that assessment.

"I have been a Fellowship member for 19 years, and I got to know Thomas (Easley) well during those 19 years," Friedman said. "Thomas Easley has a personality disorder. That does not mean that he is psychotic; he does demand attention, requires people to listen, and is verbally dominating. He has strongly narcissistic issues." [ed. - Many would agree this aptly describes Robert Burton!]

Friedman said that because both he and Easley worked to improve the Fellowship he had a chance to get to know Easley. Friedman, who has practices in Yuba City and San Francisco, said that the last time he saw Easley was in 1986 or 1987 in Florence, Italy. He said that Easley was drunk and disrupted the meeting of more than 100 Fellowship members.

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