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, May 28, 1995

Former Fellowship members hold peaceful picnic at Lake Francis

Stella Wirk, Doris and Don Birrell, Harold Wirk. Photo credit: Unknown

Published in the Marysville-Yuba City Appeal Democrat, May 28, 1995:
[Photo caption: Former Fellowship of Friends member Susan Lightwater removes a plaster mask which her husband, Duane, made at an ex-member reunion picnic Saturday at Lake Francis. (Dobbins, CA)]

There were grandmothers with family albums, kids eating hot dogs and a couple napping by the river at the Lake Francis Resort in Dobbins Saturday.

But on the bulletin board was a letter by attorney Abraham Goldman to Yuba County Sheriff Gary Tindel about the four-day gathering of the "Greater Fellowship."

The letter says the Fellowship of Friends is not responsible for any violence or drugs at the gathering of the former members who call themselves the "Greater Fellowship."

About 100 former members, mostly middle-aged and older, who joined the Fellowship during the 1970s, started their first local reunion Friday. It continues through Monday.

The former members chose to post Goldman's letter and an anonymous lawsuit he's filed, which two former members say targets as a discussion format for what they say have been false insinuations of criminal activity.

"The Fellowship disclaims all responsibility for this event," Goldman wrote Tindel.

"As you know, the Fellowship has strict policies prohibiting among other things, the use of drugs and violence. We don't mean to imply that anything of this nature will occur, only that nothing that occurs at this event should be construed in [such a] way [as] to be connected with the Fellowship of Friends."

Former member Steven Englander of Marin, who left the group in 1985, said he didn't mind if the sheriff wanted to check on the picnic, but said he did mind what he saw as Goldman's insinuations.

"This is an insidious and somewhat transparent attempt to cast aspersions on this gathering," Englander said.

Goldman said the letter was not aimed at former members, but came because of worries about unrelated attacks on the Fellowship.

"Over the last two years, the Fellowship has been unjustly accused by the Olivehurst Gospel Assembly and slandered repeatedly that we are involved in drugs and violence," Goldman said in an interview.

"We have been using the name Fellowship of Friends for 25 years. We just wanted to make it known that when anybody is using the same name as ours, clearly known, there was no association with us," Goldman

Tindel said, "To me it was just a courtesy letter letting us know there was going to be a gathering up there and there wasn't expected to be any problems with either group."

"And there haven't been, as far as I know," Tindel said Saturday night, as he was cooking dinner for the Marysville Chiefs.

Posted near the letter at the resort was the lawsuit, which accuses unidentified former members of an anonymous religious organization of illegally conspiring to bring it down.

The former Fellowship members found that Goldman's filing substitutes the word "Fellowship"
 for ABC" in one spot, making the filing less than anonymous.

Several legal experts interviewed last week were baffled by the all anonymous filing. Former member Jim Irving of Benicia said the slip-up shows just how silly the entire suit is.

"It shows how this all was a sham to begin with," Irving said.

Goldman said he couldn't comment on the suit, but said the lawsuit speaks itself.

The former members said they chose to gather locally for the first time to show they had outgrown the once-tight grip the Fellowship held on them.

"It's very hard to leave," said UC Davis law student Max Taylor.

"You are told that those who leave have no more spiritual possibilities, and members are told not to talk to ex-members. That's why gatherings like this are important."

Greater Fellowship members said they also hoped to get the chance to talk to current members, but were disappointed only two had shown up by Saturday afternoon.

After reading the lawsuit and the letter addressed to Tindel, several said that they were more glad than ever they had decided to leave the group.

"It's too ridiculous to get upset about," said former member Ramona Merryweather, after reading the letter.

Many of the former members say they continue to follow the 4th Way as members of a loosely connected group called the Greater Fellowship.

Many said the suit and letter brought back memories of the control they felt while they were members of the Fellowship of Friends.

"This is a disturbing letter. We have a right to gather and we have our right to the 4th Way," said Bobie Lyras of Scottsdale, Ariz.

The former members held picnics, games and talked about the 4th Way, the teachings of two Russian philosophers on which the Fellowship is founded.

Doris Burrell [sic] said she helped Fellowship of Friends founder Robert Burton find the property in Yuba County and still believes in the 4th Way, but left after 23 years in January.

Burrell, of Vacaville, was married in the Fellowship and said Burton accompanied the couple on their honeymoon.

"We didn't mind, we loved Robert at that time," Burrell said.

"He has been a wonderful friend to us and he taught us many wonderful principles," Burrell said.

She said the couple left after believing Burton changed his teachings.

"He was no longer giving us anything to grow on. He was talking about the end of the world," Burrell said.

Goldman and Fellowship spokeswoman Cynthia Hill say that the Fellowship never puts pressure on people to join or pursues ex-members who leave. While Burton does make predictions, these are not seen as central to Fellowship doctrine, Hill said.

Burrell said other ex-members also worried Saturday that the group they once loved may be in financial trouble.

The Fellowship of Friends has not paid property taxes since fall of 1993, according to Yuba County records.

That puts the corporation $402,000 behind on tax bills, for which it will have to pay late penalties, under state law.

The Fellowship has tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service for income taxes but not from Yuba County for property taxes.

Goldman said he has been told the Fellowship will begin paying the property taxes on a payment plan, as allowed by state law.

"The Renaissance Vineyard Winery is making a nice turn-around now and substantial progress is being made," Goldman said.

Former member Greg Wenneson of Sonoma said the secret nature of the Fellowship and all the controversy that has often surrounded the group makes the group seem more dramatic and exciting than it is. He said if people would realize that, they wouldn't worry about leaving.

"The most insidious thing about the Fellowship of Friends [insinuations] is there is nothing hidden, Wenneson said. "There is no conspiracy by former members."

"What you see here is pretty much what it is, a bunch of old farts getting together to have a few beers and talk about life."

Thursday, May 25, 1995

Lawyer says suit targets ex-Fellowship members

[ed. - Regarding anti-cult lawyer Ford Greene, former Fellowship of Friends member Max Taylor is quoted in the San Francisco Weekly:]
“Fighting cults comes from deep within Ford's own experience,” says Vermont attorney Max Taylor, whom Greene helped bring out of a group called Fellowship of Friends years ago. “In his mind there's nothing worse than using spirituality to take advantage of people.”

by Frank Hartzell
Marysville-Yuba City, California

An anonymous lawsuit by a religious leader who says he is being harassed because he is a homosexual has upset former members of the foothill community of Apollo, who suspect they may be its target.

The suit was filed in Oakland federal court by Oregon House attorney Abraham Goldman. Goldman refused to name the religious leader identified as "John Doe" in the suit. Nor would Goldman identify the "ABC" religious corporation the suit says was founded by that leader.

The suit alleges their ability to exercise their religious and First Amendment rights are being "chilled" by the harassment.

Goldman is the day-to-day attorney for Apollo — the world headquarters of the Fellowship of Friends in Oregon House.

Marin attorney Ford Greene, who describes himself as a lawyer who sues cults, said he knows the real names of William and Henry Rowe, who are fictitiously named in the suit.

"There is no doubt this suit is aimed at my client," said Greene, who represents Troy Buzbee of Grass Valley. Buzbee, 26, was raised in the Fellowship and left in September.

"I believe Goldman's intent in doing this is to intimidate my client into not exercising his legal rights," he said. "He is launching a preemptive strike."

Greene said he sent a letter this spring to the Fellowship of Friends and founder Robert Burton on Buzbee's behalf. It demanded $5 million be paid to his client.

Goldman's suit says William and Henry Rowe, pseudonyms for an unnamed father and son, falsely claim in a $5 million demand letter that they were coerced into sex with the religious leader the suit calls John Doe.

The suit states that the demand is part of a conspiracy in which former members instigate unfounded lawsuits based on false accusations that the founder preys on young male followers.

The former members repeatedly accuse the unnamed group of being a cult and engaging in brainwashing, the suit said.

"Plaintiffs have been the target of repeated attacks by such persons and groups since before 1980 and to the current time that were motivated by antireligious animus and the motive to chill, interfere with or destroy the plaintiffs' free exercise of religion and the free exercise rights of all ABC members," the suit states.

Based on federal law, Goldman asks the court to block any suits filed in a local court based on that constitutional issue.

Greene said the suit won't stop him from filing a lawsuit in Yuba County Superior Court if he cannot reach a settlement in his current negotiations with Goldman.

Goldman would not discuss the suit. Fellowship public relations spokeswoman Cynthia Hill declined to discuss it as well and said she could not confirm it involves the Fellowship.

She said Burton would not consent to an interview.

Richard Buzbee of Sacramento said he is convinced he is the elder Rowe in the suit.

Richard Buzbee worked as a security guard at Burton's home until he left the group last year. Last fall, Buzbee said he sent letters under the name of Richard Laurel to group members saying he found out Burton began sexually pursuing his son in 1986 when the boy was 17 years old.

The suit filed by Goldman said the father and son falsely allege the son had an affair with the religious leader when the boy was 17 years old.

In Goldman's suit, it is said the described affair started when the son was 21 years old.

It states that no sexual relationship between the two has existed for at least one year and makes the claim that the father is responsible for what may have happened to his son.

In his letter to Fellowship members, Richard Buzbee admits some fault for what happened to his son.

"While he was growing up, I taught Troy that Robert was like a God, someone he could fully trust in every regard. I thus unknowingly set him up to be used by Robert for sex," Richard Buzbee wrote.

Buzbee said he mailed the letters to numerous members after being banned from Apollo by Burton.

Buzbee said his son hopes to get a settlement for the damage Burton caused. Troy Buzbee could not be reached for comment.

But Buzbee said his only intent with the letter he wrote was to try to make Fellowship members understand they are not part of a religion.

"I wanted them to know they are in a destructive cult," Richard Buzbee said.

State corporate records show Goldman as the registered agent of the Fellowship of Friends and no other religious organizations. The suit also states the religious corporation was founded about 1970. The Fellowship was founded in 1971.

Goldman would not discuss the suit, saying he may be subject to confidentiality rules that prohibit comment. He said if one party in a legal case violates confidentiality it does not give the other party the right to do so.

Several prominent former members said they left the group last winter after reading Buzbee's letter and a similar letter by Wim Pieters, but denied they are conspiring against the Fellowship.

"There is no conspiracy of any kind," Carl Mautz, the former chief attorney for the Fellowship said. Mautz represented the Fellowship in numerous court actions for almost two decades and said he once held the position now occupied by Goldman.

"This lawsuit is reflective of a certain attitude that people who are critical of the Fellowship are involved in a conspiracy," Mautz said. "That attitude is just wrong."

The suit said lawsuits have been filed and the unnamed religious group and its founder have been subject to repeated attacks since about 1980.

Former Fellowship board member Samuel Sanders filed a lawsuit in 1985 that alleges Burton abused numerous men in the organization. The suit was mentioned in several newspapers, but was dismissed after the two sides agreed to an out-of-court settlement, court files show.

In a sealed deposition for the Sanders suit, Burton said he had affairs with nearly 50 members or former Fellowship members before 1985, according to a statement filed in court records of the Sanders suit.

At that time, Burton said that as teacher of the Fellowship he had asked members not to engage in homosexual relations.

Goldman's recent suit states the regular "gay bashing" attacks that began about 1982 became part of a conspiracy about two years ago.

"Starting in 1992 or 1993 and continuing to the present time, the coconspirators further formulated a plan to destroy the ABC Corporation and abrogate First Amendment freedoms through false accusations regarding Doe's sex life, and by instigating unfounded lawsuits against defendants based upon Doe's private consensual sex life, his homosexual preference and by attacking on anti-religious grounds of 'mind-control,' 'brainwashing' and 'cults,' " the suit states.

"The lawsuit appears to be fear based, and not based on any sense of seeking truth or clearing the air so that all Fellowship members, current and past, can go on with their lives," Mautz said.


With tensions of former Fellowship of Friends members high, a first-ever reunion picnic will be held Saturday at Lake Francis in Dobbins. See story Friday.


Fellowship of Friends founder Robert Burton talked about his background while answering an attorney's questions in a civil lawsuit filed in Yuba County Superior Court in 1985.

Name: Robert E. Burton

Born: May 12, 1939 in North Little Rock, Ark. Moved to Berkeley at age 4.

Education: Graduate of San Jose State University in 1963. Earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education.

Career: Taught elementary school in the Spring Hill School District in Lafayette in the early 1960s.

Fourth Way: At age 27 Burton stopped teaching school and began to pursue philosophy and religion. He attended a Quaker church in Berkeley and studied a wide range of philosophical works. Burton was hitchhiking when he was picked up by a man who took him to a meeting about the Fourth Way. He studied under two teachers of a Fourth Way school in San Francisco. Burton says he became a teacher of the Fourth Way on Jan. 1,1970 while at a New Year's Eve party.

Apollo: Burton came to Yuba County on July 4,1971 with a group of less than 100 students to found Renaissance. The name was changed to Apollo last year. Source: Samuel L Sanders v. Fellowship of Friends Inc. et al.

Molko vs. Holy Spirit Association

Complaint: Filed in 1980 by at- case to the supreme court, torney Ford Greene of Marin on behalf of former members Tracy Leal and Stanley Molko against the Korea-based Unification Church whose followers are known as Moonies.

Synopsis: The two sued saying they were lied to by Unification Church recruiters then suffered damage when they were brainwashed at a camp in Boonville. The decision defines brainwashing.

California Supreme Court: Published a decision in 1988 that states religious organizations can be sued for fraud if a misrepresentation is made for the purpose of brainwashing someone, and allowed civil liabilities where brainwashing has been used. Greene presented the case to the supreme court.

Settlement: Greene said the Unification Church paid an award under seal that totaled in the "high six or low seven figures."

Precedent: Greene said he sent a $5 million claim letter to the Fellowship of Friends that claims his client, Troy Buzbee, would win in court under the precedent set by the Molko decision. In what Greene said was a response suit, Oregon House Attorney Abraham Goldman contends that a suit brought against his clients does not have standing under the Molko decision because the claims are false. Goldman won't confirm he is involved in negotiations with Greene. Greene said he is in negotiations with Goldman.


ABC, Inc. & John Doe v. William Rowe & Henry Rowe is a lawsuit that refers to real people, but not people named Doe or Rowe.

ABC, Doe and Rowe are fictitious names that lawyers use on the title page of a lawsuit to protect the anonymity of the persons and companies involved in sensitive cases.

Roger W. Sleight, managing partner of Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold, a San Francisco law firm, said anonymous names are usually used when lawyers do not know the names of certain parties. An intentionally anonymous lawsuit, where neither the plaintiffs nor the defendants are identified, he said, is extremely rare.

According to a legal practice guide written by federal Judge William Schwarzer, courts generally require the parties to identify themselves. The parties may proceed anonymously, however, only in "exceptional cases" involving sensitive issues — homosexuality or child sexual abuse, for example.

As the case proceeds to trial, however, the identity of the parties will likely be revealed. Civil trials are open to the public, and presumably, one of the fictitiously named parties will have to testify, necessitating identifying the person involved.