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.

Monday, October 31, 1994

Charles Randall resigns from Board of Directors, calls on Burton to dismantle school

[ed. - I am inserting the following post into the blog at October 1994 as a milestone in the Fellowship history. Charles was an officer in the corporation.]

"Charles R." posted the following on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 19, 2007 at 5:35 p.m.:
Thank you for your support, all who have said such kind things about me. I really appreciate you and especially the value you bring to this wonderful blog which is so healing and helpful.
I looked in the old files and found a letter I sent to all the Board members of the Fellowship in October 1994 which I thought I’d share for what it’s worth. I left the mailmerge fields in.   
October 1994

Dear «FirstName»,

I am resigning my membership in the Fellowship. Attached is a copy of a letter I sent to Robert. In it I explain my thoughts to him and my recommendations to him.

I would like to share a couple of things with you, too.

Naturally, I recommend to you that you disassociate yourself from the Fellowship. However, I recognize that doing so is a process that takes time, sometimes a long time. For me, I would say it took me twelve years or more to finally take the step. I hope you hear what I am doing and saying with an open mind; that is, I hope you entertain the idea that I may be right. I am just like you. I wanted everything to be true.

As a member of the board of directors for almost 15 years, I know what goes on there. If you intend to continue in your capacity as director, I adjure you to rise up and take responsibility for what is happening in the Fellowship. I think you know Richard Buzbee’s letter is not an aberration; it appears to be the rule. None of the men in Robert’s harem really wants to be there, to my knowledge. And new recruits are added in an elaborate and subtle conspiracy in which they have almost no chance to say no. If you don’t know how it works, check it out. Ask Richard Buzbee. Stop being afraid.

In my current frame of mind I would not have agreed to many of the financial and operational decisions we all “rubber-stamped” in our monthly director’s meetings. The purchases of “art”, the budget for Robert’s endless vacation, the salary for Robert, including his gigantic year-end bonuses, the bogus arrangements for Robert to purchase luxury golf condominiums in Palm Springs and Gray Eagle [sic - Graeagle], just to mention a few, are repellent to me now. I suggest to you that you a.) reacquaint yourself with your conscience and b.) vote your conscience from now on. I don’t mean to sound glib; I say this to encourage you to do what you vaguely feel to be right, but which contradicts the dogma you’ve learned to live with.

Please stand up and take charge — of yourself, of your life, and of the Fellowship if you plan to stay in it. I know you. You are one of of the most decent, intelligent, and well-meaning people I have ever met. You are unfortunately living in a fantasy as far as Robert and the Fellowship are concerned. I lived the same fantasy.

It is possible to escape the fantasy. You only have to want to.

Your friend,

Charles Randall

[ed. - The following Letter to Robert was posted on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog on April 14, 2007.]
Hello, All,

I join everyone in thanking you Shiek [sic] — Thank you! This blog is a very good thing and I think it will be a big help to decent (those with ears and eyes) people both in and out of the FOF.

In the spirit of those who have shown their real and imagined letters to Robert, I thought I’d share a real one from 1994. I heard through reliable sources that Robert actually read it, and commented to someone near him that “Charles doesn’t believe in Influence C any more.” That apparently was all he said about it.

So, if you are wondering if Robert ever was confronted directly on his s**t, he was. The results speak for themselves.

I’m very happily living my life in the glorious world with excellent friends and family. I would never want to be in the clutches of the FOF ever again
October 1994

Robert Burton
Oregon House, California

Dear Robert,

Many of my friends are leaving the Fellowship right now, and many blame you for deceiving them. I tend to think that you may be equally deceived. I think that you, as a result of your experience with Alex Horn, may be subject to a personality formed in you that has dominated your psychology ever since.

For the last six months I have been seriously studying the current literature on cults and cult related psychology. The conclusion I have reached is that the Fellowship is, in fact, a cult — just like so many other cults. You are cast in the role of “cult leader,” and your behavior parallels other cult leaders to a surprising degree.

I think the so-called “verifications of C-Influence” are not verifications at all.

The “shocks” that we all see are real and have been known to people since the earliest times; Carl Jung called them “synchronicity” or the meaningful coincidence of two or more events. However, your interpretations of them (validating your claims) , the assumption that only Fellowship people receive them (the “chosen people”), attributing the cause to 44 former humans seen only by you — these things I contend are not real, but rather are fantasies. Fantasies generally satisfy an underlying psychological need and that, I think, is the case for all of us who have been involved with the Fellowship, including you, and maybe particularly you.

The fantasy related to your predictions has the potential to be really pernicious.

Robert, the world-wide economic collapse you predicted never happened! Please don’t believe it did, and please don’t change your story to say that you predicted a stock market crash — you predicted a crippling global depression. As for the fall of California … well, it’s absurd. Give it up. The moving of your most psychologically dependent followers to Oregon House, the closing in and isolation it will lead to, the already present armed guards — I think these things are a sign of paranoia.

I am abandoning the fantasy, and I recommend that you do, too. I recommend that you turn your considerable intelligence to studying this cult psychology phenomenon. If you are honest with yourself I think you will find that the shoe fits.

For your sake, and for the sake of those following you, please give up your messianic role, disband the Fellowship, send away your followers, and become an ordinary human again. It’s not too late. Please do it.

Sincerely,

Charles R.

Sunday, October 23, 1994

Phone call from Robert Burton to James Battaglia, and James' written response

"Just remember I am a conscious being and Richard
is an unconscious being. Richard is lying through his teeth,
and he set me up. Richard is a wolf in sheep’s clothing
and I fell for the setup." (Photo source)

Posted by Ames Gilbert on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion Blog:
Some more history…

After Richard Buzbee (school name, Richard Laurel) distributed his letter telling of his sexual encounter with Burton and how he discovered his son Troy had been having sexual relationship with Burton (beginning when Troy was underage), Burton called quite a few students to ‘try to quell the flames’. Here is one of those conversation, verbatim.

Phone call from Robert Burton to James Battaglia, October 23, 1994

R. Hello James, how’s your liver? Are you feeling well?

J. I’m fine, Robert, and it was a kidney transplant that I had.

R. Yes, that’s right. Are you disturbed by this Richard Buzbee incident? I understand you left the meeting in protest.

J. Let me explain the scenario. I had been standing for an hour and you know my physical condition. It was two minutes to eight o’clock and there were about a hundred cars at the Town Hall. Why do you think I left?

R. To beat the traffic!

J. That’s right. If I was protesting this meeting, I’d do it verbally.

R. I don’t want the meeting to be an arena to discuss my sexual life and I allowed it to happen. C Influence wants me to be a homosexual and have sex with my students so that I may have humility. It’s a beautiful experience for myself and my students. I’m very loving and careful with them. The morality of the ark will not be based on Judeo-Christian principles.

J. What will it be based on?

R. I don’t know yet.

J. I’d like to ask you some questions concerning this matter about Richard. Are you open to that?

R. Yes.

J. Did Richard consent to having sex with you?

R. I’m over fifty and not a strong man. Richard lifted his buttocks up so that I could remove his pants. After we were through, he said that it was beautiful.

J. Had you had sex with him previously?

R. We had laid naked together in the other (Ethan’s) house and I fondled him. My students willingly have sex with me, I don’t force anyone.

J. I’ve talked with Richard myself and I feel that I have a good understanding of his experience.

R. Just remember I am a conscious being and Richard is an unconscious being. Richard is lying through his teeth, and he set me up. Richard is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and I fell for the setup.

J. I’m not conscious and I can’t verify if you are conscious. The system tells me that the lower cannot see the higher.

R. I am the brightest light in two thousand years.

J. I can’t verify that.

R. Have you verified C Influence?

J. Yes.

R. Well, the reason you’re able to do that is because I am a conscious being. Do you remember when I sent the car for you?

J. What do you mean?

R. I have to make about five hundred decisions a week. That I was able to send a car for you to pick you up at the hospital was an act of a conscious being. It’s the little things that matter.

R. Robert, I don’t see how that allows me to verify that you are conscious. Are acts of kindness an indicator of consciousness?

R. You don’t sound like you are coming from the king of hearts, more from your king of clubs.

J. I’m glad you brought up the king of clubs. It seems like you have a big identification with things pertaining to the king of clubs. What do you think is the right work of the king of clubs?

R. Gurdjieff says the king of clubs is the beast of the jungle, it protects the machine from harm. It lives in the jungle.

J. Then it seems to me a necessary part to recognize and understand. Yet you have an aversion to king of clubs things like holistic healing, hands-on healing, etcetera.

R. (vague response)

J. Robert, the only thing important to me is to keep my ears and eyes open and try to be in the moment. This moment. Talking to you is the most important thing happening. It helps me see the truth. That’s why I came to this school; I felt it was a bastion of truth. In time, though, I’ve found that most students don’t want to face the truth. Whenever I make an observation, the general response is that I’m being negative or that I’m losing the school. I see fear and feminine dominance as tools to keep students in control, I don’t have any fear of losing the school. I just need to be in the moment and if C Influence takes me out, so be it. Being in the moment is all that’s important to me.

R. That’s not enough.

J. What do you mean, not enough? That’s what you’ve been preaching all these years, self-remembering. What more is there?

R. You have to be concerned with your future.

J. What?!

R. You have to be concerned with YOUR future.

J. I’m concerned with the moment.

R. Remember when you were thrown out of the raft?

J. Yes.

R. C Influence can shake you out of the school just the same.

J. Robert, again let me say all I can do is keep my eyes and ears open and stay in the moment. That’s all that’s important to me. I don’t fear losing the school if I’m bounced out of it.

R. You have to be concerned about your future.

J. I’m only concerned with my present.

R. You have to be concerned about YOUR future (very strong emotional energy coming from Robert). Well, I’m glad that you’re o.k. about this incident. It’s fine to share this conversation with other students.

J. I won’t do that, Robert, because it would influence their thinking on this matter. I would encourage them to speak with Richard and you to form their own opinions. Are you open to them calling you?

R. Yes. Well, there’s a wedding here today and I have things to do.

J. Let’s keep the channels of communication open, Robert, and thanks for calling.

R. Goodbye, dear.

James followed up this conversation with a letter a few days later…

Dear Robert,

I appreciate you calling me and have taken time to digest the experience, and I’d like to offer you my perceptions.

My emotional center registered from your tone that you were very concerned with how I was dealing with what I’ll call the Richard Laurel incident. My action at the meeting of questioning Wayne’s angle and then leaving soon after was the catalyst for your call. I find it interesting that this was reported to you and that you acted so quickly on it. It verifies to me that you are quite active in the process of damage control over this incident with Richard and it makes me question why.

I made thorough notes of our conversation and thought about the emotional content of your voice during it. I feel that you put a lot of energy out to convince me that you are a conscious being, bordering on divinity. “The brightest light in two thousand years”, as you put it. The examples you gave to me for verification, such as my having verified C Influence because you are a conscious being and your sending me to a car to pick me up at the hospital did not penetrate as valid verifications of consciousness. I had verified C Influence before and after being in the Fellowship and I don’t see any connection with your theoretical consciousness. As to you sending a car for me and supplying rides to my doctor’s appointments at my request, I appreciate it greatly and that shows me that you were very considerate of my situation, yet I don’t know they constitute acts of consciousness. Yet I have a pretty good idea of what is not consciousness through self-observation and observing others.

As to our discussion of your sexual preferences and that C Influence wants you to be a homosexual and have sex with your students, this in unverifiable to me. Your sexuality is your business and is not a real issue with me. The issue with me and other students I’ve confided in is the possibility of you using your position as a means to gratify what appears to be a large sexual appetite. I’ve talked with students who have been your partner and their experiences have been as diverse as the individual. Some have said they were pursued quite vigorously until they succumbed, others felt it was a beautiful experience from which they gained tremendously, and others felt they were treated as an instinctive object for pleasure, then discarded. You said that your students willingly are with you and you do not influence them and this my be true. You do hold a very influential position over many and I’m sure that you realize this does affect a person’s process in responding to you. Years of observation about the type of men you have in your entourage have shown me that they are predominantly very similar in their psychologies and appear to be particularly malleable.

My final concern is that over the years it appears you have many sexual partners and that precautions for sexually transmitted diseases are not taken. I feel this is not responsible action by all parties involved and can lead to dire consequences for you and many others. Have you ever had an AIDS test and have any of your consistent partners been tested? What do you feel is your responsibility and how do you deal with this issue?

My responses and statements to you appeared to make you more defensive of your position until you photographed me as being in the king of clubs rather than the king of hearts. This appears to be a standard response by you that one is becoming instinctive if your authority is questioned. The Fourth Way, as I understand it, is a process of questioning, observing, and verification. One that does not question is asleep, in my opinion. My questioning is a step in the process to find the truth, it does not come from disrespect or judgment.

At the start of our conversation you mentioned that you had just returned from staying at a hotel, I believe it was named after Muir, and that the address was 1998 and you made a reference to the numerical significance. At the teaching dinner I attended in September, you spent a considerable amount of time talking about interpreting license plate, place names and the like. Robert, what relevance does that have towards evolution and why is it such a common topic by you to students? I searched books by Ouspensky, Gurdjieff, Collins and Bennet and have not found any references to predictions. What does this information have to do with the Fourth Way and awakening? To me it appears to feed imagination. I may be wrong, so could you clarify your intent on speaking of these matters? I’d appreciate some relativity.

Robert, I feel the intention of your call was to assure me that everything is fine and as you put it, Richard was lying through his teeth, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, as you stated and you fell for his setup. I don’t know why you made a particularly strong effort to convince me. I’ve been told that one of your roles is to keep students asleep as well as awaken. If this was said by you I feel that you were trying to assure me that all is well and that it’s business as usual. And you realized that I wasn’t buying it. Thus your example of being knocked out of the school felt like a strong warning to me. As I said to you, I’ve never felt as committed to my work and to supporting students as I do now. All I can do is to try to be present to the moment, keep my eyes looking and my ears listening. Trust my conscience and I’ll be shown the truth. The future will unfold as it will and I will accept it as it happens, without fear.

Robert, I appreciate all the opportunities I’ve been given to self observe and try to develop will. For our efforts and all the efforts of all students who have built and are building Renaissance/Apollo I am forever grateful. I know of no other community where I have 1901 teachers and it is something I value highly. My observations to you come from a place of caring, support and concern for what we are building and I know that you can understand and appreciate that. Let’s keep the communications open. Thank you.

With love and friendship,

(signed) James Battaglia

On the 13th November, 1994, James received his reply. He was told to leave the Fellowship, along with five others, including myself.

Historical note: “Wayne” is Wayne Mott, onetime Burton’s personal secretary (can’t remember if he was so at the time). The meeting referred to was led by Steven Dambeck, with Wayne Mott, Gunter Weninger and a couple of others (can’t find my notes right now!) up on the podium. What was notable about this ‘public’ meeting is that these folks started by freely admitting having sexual relations with Burton, and each testified that the experience was helpful for their inner work. Steven then continued the meeting on the lines of morality (with special emphasis on the inapplicability of ‘life’ morality), and steered away from any concerns about abuse of power and so on (refused to accept such questions by asking for others that suited his agenda better). A couple of days later, I responded with a letter to him that photographed him for the sleight of hand and misdirection, which I may post later.

With love to all,

Ames
[ed. - Ames Gilbert shares additional memories of his friend James Battaglia in this post dated March 19, 2009.]

Insubordination in the ranks


Jiminy Cricket's sage advice
[ed. - Timeline of events drawn from Ames Gilbert's and James Battaglia's accounts. In the days leading up to the events noted in the timeline below, Ames (among others) actively challenged Fellowship leaders. He would recall later, "I had already gathered rather more than the required three strikes…" Among his insubordinate behaviors:
  • Writing a letter to Girard questioning his rationalizations and excuses for Burton’s sex activities at the previous meeting
  • Questioning Girard’s Man #5 claim to his face
  • Warning James Tyndall–Biscoe that if he accepted Burton’s proclamation that he (JT-B) was a future Man #5 at face value, he was delusional
  • Interviewing various ‘Burton’s boys’ past and present to find out what was going on
  • Warning young men (visitors) not yet in Burton's clutches about what might be expected of them
  • Confronting Girard for his looting of the mail boxes at the lodge for subversive material
  • Copying and anonymously distributing dozens of bundles of new info, like the Samuel Sanders letter, the Sharole Manering letter, and so on ("I later learned that someone else copied these and distributed them much further"). This is the kind of stuff that Girard was searching for.
  • Actively supporting Richard Buzbee's case
  • Arguing his point of view with three of the Oregon House honchos: Peter Bishop, Laura Bishop, and Mary Carlisle
  • Publishing and distributing an "unofficial" newsletter for Oregon House members, the last issue of which came out two days before his dismissal
  • Ignoring a direction that he not attending the final meeting (below). "I was not supposed to be at that final (for me and the other five) meeting. In fact, there was a message from Peter Bishop on my machine, left about an hour before that specifically ordered me not to attend. But I ignored it, thinking I 'could have so easily missed it'."
  • Asking the wrong question at that meeting
  • Standing up at that meeting and arguing with Linda Kaplan’s directive that the subject be changed]

October 3, 1994
Richard Buzbee was "released" from the Fellowship of Friends, in punishment for sending out his letter.
October 23, 1994
Phone call from Robert Burton to James Battaglia. [Excerpt from James' written reply:]
My emotional center registered from your tone that you were very concerned with how I was dealing with what I’ll call the Richard Laurel incident. My action at the meeting of questioning Wayne’s angle and then leaving soon after was the catalyst for your call. I find it interesting that this was reported to you and that you acted so quickly on it. It verifies to me that you are quite active in the process of damage control over this incident with Richard and it makes me question why.
November 12, 1994
After distributing copies of his telephone conversation with Robert Burton, James Battaglia is told to leave the Fellowship. Fellowship of Friends meeting led by Steven Dambeck, in which he, Wayne Mott, Gunter Weninger, and others freely admitted "having sexual relations with Burton, and each testified that the experience was helpful for their inner work."
November 13, 1994
In reaction to events at the previous evening's meeting, Stephen Merryweather, Ramona Merryweather, Howard Kingston, Ames Gilbert, and Emily Gordon are told to leave the Fellowship. Cynthia Kingston is given a "leave of absence."
November 14, 1994
James Battaglia, Stephen Merryweather, Ramona Merryweather, Howard Kingston, Ames Gilbert, and Emily Gordon were removed from the Fellowship roster. (Cynthia Kingston was removed from the roster March 15, 1995.)
"Ames Gilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 20, 2007:
Some more history… Historical note: “Wayne” is Wayne Mott, onetime Burton’s personal secretary (can’t remember if he was so at the time). The meeting referred to was led by Steven Dambeck, with Wayne Mott, Gunter Weninger and a couple of others (can’t find my notes right now!) up on the podium. What was notable about this ‘public’ meeting is that these folks started by freely admitting having sexual relations with Burton, and each testified that the experience was helpful for their inner work. Steven then continued the meeting on the lines of morality (with special emphasis on the inapplicability of ‘life’ morality), and steered away from any concerns about abuse of power and so on (refused to accept such questions by asking for others that suited his agenda better). A couple of days later, I responded with a letter to him that photographed [a Fellowship term, an observation] him for the sleight of hand and misdirection, which I may post later. After Richard Buzbee (school name, Richard Laurel) distributed his letter telling of his sexual encounter with Burton and how he discovered his son Troy had been having sexual relationship with Burton (beginning when Troy was underage), Burton called quite a few students to ‘try to quell the flames’. Here is one of those conversation, verbatim. [ed. - See Phone call from Robert Burton to James Battaglia] On the 12th November, 1994, James received his reply. He was told to leave the Fellowship, along with five others, including myself.
[ed. - Ames Gilbert shares additional memories of his friend James Battaglia in this post dated March 19, 2009.]