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.

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,

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

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