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 an ominous, yet unspecified new threat late in 2018.) While non-believers shall perish, through the direct intervention and guidance from 44 angels (including his divine father, Leonardo da Vinci) Burton and his followers will 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 on official Fellowship publications and websites, news archives, court documents, cult education and awareness forums, the (former) Fellowship Wikipedia page, the long-running Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the (former) Fellowship of Friends wiki project, 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, May 25, 1995

Lawyer says suit targets ex-Fellowship members

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.

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