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.

Monday, March 31, 1997

A long farewell to members of the Fellowship's Milan, Italy center

Fellowship of Friends cult leader Robert Earl Burton and Asaf Braverman in Milan
Robert Earl Burton and Asaf Braverman in Milan

[ed. - This letter, purportedly written by an Italian upon their departure from the Fellowship of Friends is inserted in the timeline roughly where the original letter is said to have been written.

In August 2007, a post titled "Una lettera agli studenti italiani" (A letter to Italian students) was posted on the blog, "Tutto quello che avreste dovuto sapere sulla Fellowship of Friends" (Everything you should know about the Fellowship of Friends). The following is a Google translation of the blog post, with some help from this editor to improve readability.

The blog's author prefaced the post, "The following letter, written by DG Fof when he left in 1997, was sent by mail to the members of the center in Milan at that time. We present the following."]

Dear student,

I write to you as a result of your membership in the Fellowship of Friends. My name is XYZ XYZ, and I was a student in the Milan center from August 1988 to March 1997. I ask you to please have the patience to read until the end of this letter. Also, if you know of any students who have not received it, I ask you please to have it read to them.  
In my last year in the school, and especially in recent months after leaving, I learned things about Robert and the Fellowship that I would have wanted to learn when I was part of [the Fellowship], and that is your right to know, as student and sponsor of the school.  
In recent months I have come in contact with some of the first students of the Fellowship, I read copies of letters sent by students to the Fellowship and Robert himself, articles about the school appeared in local and national U.S. newspapers, and extracts of the lawsuits filed against Robert and the Fellowship. It was thus possible to know some of the lesser-known aspects of the school: the sexual behaviors of Robert towards his students, the relationship between the Fellowship and the students, and the use of money. These facts have resulted in the inclusion of the Fellowship [in the list?] of the potentially dangerous cults in the United States, the expulsion of some students and the defections of hundreds, mostly Americans, and two court cases. Here is a summary of the information which has come into my possession on these topics.  
Over the past two months it has been my care to check the soundness of the news reported by comparing two independent sources who have had direct and personal knowledge of the facts. Additionally, I omitted all the news that I have not confirmed or that was based on second-hand information or hearsay. At the end of the letter you will find the list of documents and sources from which I obtained the information that you read.  
Although Robert has over the years repeatedly led many of his students to believe he lives in abstinence, and in spite of homosexuality being officially banned from the school until 1993, since the beginning of the Fellowship Robert had (and has usually) sexual relationships with hundreds of his students, all boys and none of them homosexual. Most students chosen by Robert were young and with little time in school, but in some cases it was married men. Sometimes these students are 'recruited' as watchmen of Robert, so they can be always available. 
Samuel Sanders joined the school in 1975, and from 1979 to 1984 was part of the Fellowship Board of Directors. In March of 1984, he presented a letter  to the members of the Council in which, first became aware of the sexual behavior of Robert, asks them to do something to help the students involved, as well as Robert himself. [ed. - See original Samuel Sanders letter.] Here are the main points of the letter:
[ed. - Text of Sanders' original letter, not a translation]
March 4, 1984

Dear Friends,

What is to be said can only be heard through your heart. Please try to listen from that part. For a long time we have been part of a criminal process which has hurt many individuals. Some of these individuals have been sacrificed because we have chosen not to listen to our conscience.

Robert has over the years pursued and sodomized young men. He has used his position to seduce these young men with the promise of immortality. His actions are simply that of a degenerate being no matter how refined. We in our blindness have allowed some dear individuals to be defiled and damaged by his appetites. Our omission, and it is one in the strictest sense, is allowing it to continue.

Some of these young men have become seriously psychologically impaired through this process. Yet we go on minimizing it because it is safer not to know. These acts are a violation of Robert's position. If we excuse this by saying that it is his privilege or his private weakness we are both accomplice and victim. If it is allowed to continue, the karma which we attract will bring down our school and leave very heavy stains on our being. It is simply not worth the contamination wrought.

There may be much discomfort which comes from these words. But please try to think of the anguish some of these young men have been subject to in the name of evolution; and ask yourself whether you would knowingly, as a higher being, conduct your life in this way.

Can you truly accept that one can enter higher worlds by such actions? Would you wish to enter these worlds by such acts? This reasoning leads to one final not-so-profound conclusion; the Emperor is indeed very naked and we sadly provide his mantle.

Robert is a victim also. The highest that one can extend him is compassion and help. If one becomes angered at him or oneself or me the cycle continues. He is and will be confused and hurt by these actions. Yet firmness and equanimity are what is needed. We do great harm to our school and our being should we choose not to act.

We have talked and preached an ethic of love and acting for the higher right. Now is the time to be the words. It would also be a solemn and humane act for us to help the young men who have been hurt and damaged by Robert. It would be a proper legacy to pass on to the next generation.

If you find in your solitude that fear and or the wish to defend has kept you from hearing what has been said, you lose a very dear friend. You lose yourself!

In friendship,

Samuel L. Sanders

On the day after the submission of the letter, without the knowledge of Sanders, three members of the Council met and decided that due to Samuel Sanders' incorrigibility in fomenting divisions in the school that threaten its stability and its spiritual purposes, the Committee [..] agrees unanimously and in accordance with the doctrine of the Church, to expel Samuel Sanders from the Fellowship of Friends.

In June 1984, Sanders Lawsuit [is brought] against the Fellowship, Robert Burton, and some of the most prominent members of the school, including Girard Haven, Abraham Goldman (one of the lawyers of Robert and the FOF), Helga Mueller and Charles Randall, with a claim for damages of $2.5 million and for an order of the court to Robert to abstain from sexual acts with his students "without first inform[ing] them in writing that such acts do not have any connection with the philosophy of the Fellowship." 26 students who had had sexual relationships with Robert were willing to testify about it. However Goldman, defender of the Fellowship, asked for and obtained an order withholding all the facts of the case, and three years later this was settled  outside of court with a payment by the Fellowship to Sanders of an undisclosed amount. (Charles Randall, in a personal communication, told me that Sanders received $500,000 from the Fellowship.) In the course of the case, Goldman said among other things: "The Fellowship believes that the sexual life of an individual is his private affair. This also includes that of the head of an organization." 
Later Robert lied, saying to the students of the Fellowship that the case had been dismissed for obvious absence of facts. "Churches" even among students who were not involved in this cause, thus adding to the legal censorship, censorship imposed by his lawyer. It is estimated that, in a short time, about 100 students left the school as a result Sanders' letter, his expulsion and the subsequent legal case.

Wim Pieters had been in the Fellowship from 1985 to1994. In 1986, he moved from Amsterdam to Apollo. Here's what he wrote in a letter sent to students shortly before leaving the school:
[ed. - Text of the original letter, not a translation, as it was shared by Stella Wirk in November 1994]
Dear friend,

In an attempt to prevent me from talking to others about my experiences with him, Robert has forbidden me to come to Renaissance (or Apollo). I write this letter for those who are interested.

When I came to Renaissance in the spring of 1986 I had been in the school for one year. In the center I had been told numerous stories by the center directors as to how a great, almost saintly person the Teacher was. Having come to the Fellowship needy of emotional and spiritual support I was willing to believe these reports at face value.

After a few weeks of living at Renaissance, following a heavy drinking 'symposium', Robert took me inside of one of the Academy rooms and wanted to have sex with me.

When I told him that I did not want this because I had no homosexual feelings, nor did I want to see myself assume those practices, Robert dismissed my arguments by saying that I should externally consider him as my teacher.

Partly out of fear for this 'all powerful' being, partly not to want to feel guilty or judged, but largely because of the energy with which Robert approached me, I was left with the feeling I had no choice.

While Robert went about his business of trying to stimulate an orgasm from me which he was going to receive orally I pointed out to him that I was covering my face with my hands out of shame. Robert retorted that this was a good opportunity for work for me.

This was the beginning of my functioning as a sexual servant which lasted for several years.

In order to bear my plight I kept on telling myself that it was my play to transform this kind of suffering and that learning selfless servitude might eventually benefit my soul. I also tried to stimulate in me the belief that since Robert was conscious, being in his presence had to basically be a good thing.

Robert tried to assure me that what was going on between us was the wish of C-Influence, and that the worst thing I could do was to resist their plans. He also explained his attraction to men not as homosexuality but as the result of his being an angel and a cosmos above men, just like men's attraction to women stemmed, he would add,from men being in a cosmos above women.

It was when I eventually met a woman (soon to become my wife) who cared enough to point out to me that it was up to me to take responsibility for my life, that I found the third force needed to let Robert know that I did not want to continue serving him in this fashion.

He got very upset over this and from one day to the other what he had called 'love' turned into hostility, resentment, and a total ignoring of us as his students. It was here that it became really clear to me that I had never been a 'friend' or a 'student' but had been used for one sole purpose: Robert's sexual gratification. There had been no love, let alone conscious love.

In the five years that followed we have never been allowed to have dinner with our 'Teacher', nor were we given consideration when we asked for help during great medical expenses while working on salary at Renaissance.

During this period Robert did, however, call me numerous times on the phone asking me if I would again 'come in his mouth' (his words), for which he would, among other things, offer to pay my voice lessons, knowing that these were important to me and that I had a hard time finding funding for them. Needless to say, at this point I never as much responded to his requests or 'offers'.

Much effort has been directed towards covering up information such as which is disclosed in this letter. There has also been a collective buffering among Fellowship members as regards Robert's practices.

How can people who pride themselves in having evolved levels of being tolerate this? I am convinced that many of the prevailing attitudes in the Fellowship are based on religious faith, such as those regarding unverifiable issues like Robert's consciousness; the Fellowship being an arc [sic] for a new civilization; the division of humanity into 'students' and 'life people', and the alleged spiritual superiority of Fellowship members over non-members.

I hope that you will have the courage to challenge your attitudes and see them for what they are. For the sake of your evolution.

Your friend,

(*name withheld by request)
[ed. - In a newspaper account, Wim Pieters is called Johan Van Gaal.]
Wim Pieters left the school in October 1994. Richard (Laurel) Buzbee has been a member of the Fellowship from 1976 to 1994. When he entered the school he was told that Robert was living in sexual abstinence. Soon before leaving the school Buzbee writes a letter to the students of the Fellowship in which he relates how Robert had a relationship with him after inviting him to his room under the pretense of a massage:

[ed. - Text of the original Richard Buzbee letter, not a translation]
October 1994

Dear Friend,

I am writing to you and several others because I value your friendship and regard you as someone with whom I can be honest and open. I decided to write to you because there have been some stories spreading through the school about myself and Robert, and I would like to clarify the situation. Also, I'm afraid that what happened to me is already being covered up and may soon disappear, like many things that have happened to others before.

I was asked by Robert to buy a gun and become night guard at his house. I accepted because I considered this to be an opportunity to learn from him, and to protect him from harm. I went with complete trust in Robert and a desire to serve. After accepting the position, I was informed that one of the duties required of all guards was to give Robert massages when he asked for them.

One morning, as I massaged Robert's back, without saying a word he sat me at the head of his bed on my knees. He then pulled down my pants, began sucking my penis, and asked me to come in his mouth. This was all done without my consent, very impersonally, without concern for me as a human being (married with a family), and without concern for me as a student wishing guidance to evolve. I felt betrayed and used by the man who I thought was my spiritual father. I quit the job and went off salary.

You might imagine that having sex with Robert is different from having sex with other people, that Robert somehow uses sex for teaching, or that it would make you more emotional, closer to the miraculous. But it wasn't emotional, and involved no teaching. While Robert was using me for sex, I was nothing more than an object, something to be used to satisfy his own sexual desires. Afterward, when I began discussing this experience with some of my closest friends, I discovered that many of them had been used by Robert for sex in a similar way. However, the greatest shock came from my son Troy, who told me that Robert had been actively pursuing him for sex from the time he entered the school--at age seventeen. While he was growing up, I taught Troy that Robert was like a God, someone he could trust fully in every regard. I thus unknowingly set him up to be used by Robert for sex.

Robert had told Troy (and many others with whom I have subsequently spoken), that C Influence wanted Troy to have sex with him. Robert also offered money and privileges in exchange for sex. During sex, Robert uses no protection against AIDS, herpes, or any other sexually transmitted disease, despite the fact that he has sex with many partners. On many of the nights I was a guard at his house, there was a succession of male students coming and going from his room.

If Robert removes me from the Fellowship because I have distributed this letter, I want you to know that I will still consider myself a member, and will support the school in any way I can. This our school--we have built it and paid for it. As a group, we have accumulated so much being; some people have been working on themselves for twenty years or more. To walk away from the school after learning about Robert's actions is to say that the school is his, and that we are powerless. But this is not true. We just need to trust ourselves and have the courage to come together and say no to actions that harm us. We not only have the right to do this, we also have the responsibility to bring the facts about Robert's activities into the open, where they can be fairly considered by all of his students.

Since this experience with Robert, I have been given several books by other people who have had similar experiences with him, and who were trying to understand the reasons for it. With this letter, I am enclosing chapters from two books that speak directly to our situation in the Fellowship. [Chapters not included here.]

Please feel free to share my letter and these chapters with other students. I would be interested in receiving a note or letter from you as to your thoughts and suggestions about what I've written here. Perhaps a plan of action will evolve through our efforts together. I sincerely hope this letter will encourage others to speak openly about Robert, the school, and their experiences. If the school is healthy, it should stand up under any honest inquiry.

In friendship,

Richard Laurel (a.k.a. Richard Buzbee)

Shortly after the Buzbee letter, also in 1994, at a meeting at Apollo directed by Linda Kaplan [aka Linda Tulisso] (former President of Apollo) some students asked that she talk about the sexual habits of Robert. Linda refused, and when they insisted, she suspended the meeting. The next day, four of these students were expelled from the Fellowship. Among them, a student, Ramona Merryweather, who was part of the school since the seventies. As a result of these events, about 250 other students soon left the school.

Troy Buzbee sued Robert and the Fellowship in April 1996. He claims to have sexually served Robert from the age of 17, in 1986, until his release from the school in 1994. The account of Troy (as reported in a statement of the facts of the case) is identical to that of other students who have openly denounced the behavior of Robert. After some time, Troy even becomes one of the personal guards of Robert and in the case says he saw, in the subsequent four years, a number of men in the room of Robert in a single night. Troy's case also argues that "Burton used the money to pay for other members of the association for the provision of specific sexual acts, to the extent of 50 or 100 dollars." Apollo, in 1996, I have personally spoken with a person who worked in the legal department of Abraham Goldman, who explained to me that the strategy used by the Fellowship lawyers was to avoid or delay the proceedings, in all possible bureaucratic ways, so that Robert was never called into court.

And speaking of letters of Pieters and Buzbee, Goldman said in an interview with the San Diego Union Tribune that Robert has not seduced them, but that "sexual relations may take place as a result of a mutual attraction." However, Pieters and Buzbee said they are not gay. The Buzbee case was settled out the court in October 1996. Other students, objects of the attentions of Robert, have made known their history.

Thomas Easley, in the Fellowship for 18 years, was the driver and personal secretary Robert. In 1990, he asked Robert in a letter to apologize for sexual behavior that he had with him. According to an interview with the Appeal-Democrat in 1993, [ed. - actual quote, not a translation:] "Rather than apologize, Robert added an additional insult by asking me to leave the F.O.F." However, a few days after Goldman responds to Easley that  [ed. - actual quote, not a translation:] "He [Burton] is willing to send you an apology. But as his lawyer, to do my job for him and the Fellowship, I will ask you 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."

Norman Yamasaki was in the Fellowship for 15 years, starting in 1974. [ed. - From an Appeal-Democrat article?] Yamasaki said he "is still struggling to forget that he was seduced to have sex with Burton. [..] At that time he lived with many unmarried men." Yamasaki, however, was married, and for four years, until their exit from the school, his wife knew nothing of her husband's relationship with Robert.

Bruce Levy, a former student who has had dealings with Robert, said in 1996 in the Los Angeles Times:
"No one held a gun to my head," said Levy in an interview with The Times, "but in a spiritual sense, he did. Under his teachings, one has to do what one doesn't want to do in order to evolve spiritually. . . . It's the least you can do for your teacher."
Up to [1997?] I was in the school. I never worried much how it was used, the money that each student pays to receive an education. Basically, I assumed that judicious use would be made of it. Now I have some more information, that is your right to know.

The Fellowship has a property portfolio estimated by the officers of Yuba County in 1995 at about $21 million dollars. In 1996, the estimated value of the property was $26 million, not counting the value of works of art acquired over the years (the sale of the collection of antique Chinese furniture, a year ago, alone has yielded $11.2 million). The only actual income of the Fellowship comes from fees [ed. - "donations"] paid by students. In 1994, donations exceeded $5 million. At least until 1995 (the last year for which they are able to get information), the Renaissance Winery has never been profitable, and normally absorbs from one to one-and-a-half million dollars a year. On average, half-a-million dollars are spent each year for the purchase of various works of art. As a religious institution, the Fellowship is obliged to pay only property taxes. In 1996, the IRS was still owed almost five hundred thousand U.S. dollars in back taxes related to the period 94-95.
Robert annually receives a salary which currently amounts to at least $250,000, uses a Mercedes for his trips (before this, he even used a Rolls Royce), and some sports cars can normally be seen parked at the Academy. These cars are for the use of students "close" to Robert. Girard Haven receives an annual salary of between $30,000 and $50,000, depending on whether he's in the U.S. or Europe. A few other students receive similar salaries. For example, at least until a few years ago, Barbara Haven received an annual salary of about $24,000.
Students closer to Robert, or his sexual partners, his "bodyguards" and "night guards", receive from the Fellowship a nominal monthly salary of $5,000 each. For example, in 1993 these students numbered at least 10, for an annual total of $600,000. This money goes directly to a fund administered by Robert's Secretary, Wayne Mott, and is used to pay for travel and housing of these students when they accompany Robert on his travels, and for all other expenses that Robert cannot have covered by the official Fellowship accounts. 
The approximately 200 students who work on the property receive a salary which is around $350 per month. With this figure, it is almost impossible to survive at Apollo, and of course even less outside of the community. Almost all students have to contribute their own money or work a second job. However, because $350 is well below the minimum wage in California, the Fellowship admitted that their net salary is currently about $700 per month. For students who work for the Winery, the official explanation is that they 'give' a difference ($350) to the school. Ultimately, a student at Apollo donates approximately 50% of his already poor salary to the school. Students work for nine hours a day, five days a week. For more than two years now, meals for students on salary at Apollo are no longer free. Of course, each student must also pay rent at the place where he lives. Finally, the Fellowship receives substantial help in the work force by students who regularly spend their holidays working for free at Apollo (in particular, during the harvest).

[ed. - Compare the above with this quotation from a 1981 newspaper article:]
“We’re labor intensive,” smiles Burton, his delicate hands caressing the inlaid top of the Steinway piano that sits in his kitchen. More than 200 of the group who live on the property or within a 30-mile radius work either for the fellowship – putting in days that can last up to 17 or 18 hours, by some reports – or for the winery. Fellowship workers are paid $125 a month and they are given free meals, but since Renaissance Vineyard and Winery Inc., is a profit-making, wholly owned subsidiary of the fellowship, workers there must be paid the minimum wage, amounting to about $580 a month. 

"According to fellowship president [Miles] Barth, however, the winery workers “donate” all but $125 of that to the fellowship."
Here is some other information related to Robert that is not very well known in the school. As is well known, he predicted the fall of California for 1998, and nuclear war in 2006. He had also predicted a severe global economic recession in 1984, but the recession has not occurred. This does not mean that Robert did not pay attention to the financial management of the Fellowship, even to the smallest detail. Here's an example. In 1980, the student Sheila Cousins ​​(also known as Sharole Manering) is admitted to the hospital, and because of that remains behind with the monthly teaching payment to the school. Calls, however, that Robert mail them some perspective [ed. - Burton instructed Fellowship treasurer to pressure Sheila to comply.], and Robert makes them write a brief letter containing two points of view, and concludes
[ed. - Text of original letter, not a translation:]
"Remind her that this is C influence speaking directly with her through me. Remind her that this is their way of warning her and that she has to become current with her donations now or she will have to leave the Fellowship. Tell her that the only other place to go is hell."

Sharole died two years later of cancer. During her hospital stay, some students visited her and demanded the return of a cameo presented to her by Robert (but paid for by Sharole!).
Here are some things that Robert said. In the "Via del Sol Journal" (The Journal of the Fellowship of the time) on 16 November 1971, he says:
"I am the Avatar, and I was born in 1939. I am not Christ, yet I am the Christ of the age…and I assume I prepare for him."
And in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in 1981, the journalist wrote:
"When asked if he thinks he is Jesus Christ, Burton stared for a long moment into the fire flickering warmly a few feet away, then murmured: 'Thou sayest it.'
"He had chosen the words of his answer from the Bible. That was Christ’s reply (in Matthew 15:2) to Pontius Pilate when asked if he was king of the Jews."
A former student, Randall Moffett, in this regard stated that
“Burton used to let rumors leak out that we was the second coming of Christ. ‘These two angels took me out of my body.’ One guy I know said he (Burton) rehearsed that story for months.”
However, there is at least one thing that distinguishes Christ from Robert: the attitude towards children. In the early years of the school, Robert "suggested that couples do not have children in the first five years of marriage. In some cases, this request was not met, and Robert directed some students to tell these people to have an abortion. Some women miscarried. Linda Kaplan was one of the persons assigned this task by Robert. She later said that she was "just following orders."
The Fourth Way school in which Robert studied? It was a school called "The Theatre of All Possibility", formed in the 60s in San Francisco by a certain Alex Horn. Robert was part of this school for about a year and a half before he get out to found the Fellowship. In spite of that, I've heard from many American students, it is not possible to find any link between Alex Horn and Rodney Collin, or other students of Gurdjieff or Ouspensky [ed. - Which would prove the connection to the Fourth Way lineage.] Greg Loy, of Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing has confirmed to me that there is no apparent transmission line between Gurdjieff and Ouspensky and Alex Horn and his school. The Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing operates a website which provides information on all the schools of the Fourth Way that can demonstrate a direct or indirect connection with the teaching of Gurdjieff. The Fellowship is not mentioned. However, even if the links with schools of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky are not very tight, says Robert in 1977: "We are the ones who have the right to teach the system at this moment of the century [..]. No matter how many groups exist on the ground that use the names of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, these groups remain B Influence. [..] We occupy the position of the highest school on earth. Fellowship of Friends is the greatest mystery of the twentieth century. " (Mount Carmel Journal of July 11, 1977)

In recent years, many senior students, also with important positions in the school, have left the Fellowship as a result of the conduct of Robert. In response to the letter by Richard Buzbee, Charles Randall left the school in 1994 after 21 years. A member of the Fellowship Board of Directors, for years he has been responsible for the financial management of the Fellowship. He told the San Diego Union Tribune in March 1995 that "Burton has manipulated the minds and bodies of its members," and "feels humiliated" by the whole story. He thought it was the right way, but in the end, "it was just a cult."

Carl Mautz, also a member of the Council, spokesperson, and student of the Fellowship for 18 years, was one of the lawyers who defended Robert and the school in the case of Sanders in 1984. However, he left the school in 1994, shortly after the letter of Buzbee, and the San Diego Union Tribune article. About the letter of Sanders, he said: "When Sanders said that he had been brainwashed, we looked down at him and said, 'You (jerk),'" Mautz recalled not long ago. "But he was right"
Joel Friedlander has been in the Fellowship for 22 years. He is the author of the book "Body Types", was editor of the book by Robert "Self Remembering" and he was spokesman for the Fellowship. He, too, left the school in 1994 and, also in the San Diego Union Tribune said, with regard to the teaching of Robert:
"But the group has virtually nothing to do with the Gurdjieff system ... it's basically Robert Burton's ideology grafted onto a Gurdjieff base."
He also noted that the process of recruitment (through the bookmarks with pictures of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) is misleading:
The bookmarks "use the aura of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky to entice people to call up," Friedlander said.
Friedlander says it has now become a hobby for him to visit the library and book stores and remove bookmarks. In another article appearing on the front page of the Los Angeles Times in 1996, he also said:
"When people join these groups, they don't go in planning to surrender their critical thinking and personal autonomy to the will of the big kahuna. But that's exactly what happens," said Joel Friedlander, a fellowship member for 22 years who was editor of Burton's 1991 book, "Self-Remembering."

"The indoctrination is so complete, and the peer pressure so great, that gradually the old you is replaced by a new you who believes all the propaganda, including the line that eternal damnation is the price of getting out."

Pamella Cavanna left the school in 1995, after about twenty years, and told the Los Angeles Times in reference to the letter of Buzbee and the events that followed:
"For years I ignored or justified a lot of things, but this I could not ignore," said Pamella Cavanna, 54, who left the fellowship last year after devoting two decades and more than $250,000 to Burton and his teachings. "A teacher should have moral standards that we aspire to. Instead, Robert has standards we are forced to overlook."
Barbara Bruno Lancaster had been in the school since 1972, when he was 27 years old, until 1984. She is the author of a chapter in a book published in the U.S. in 1988 and titled "Cults and Consequences." In this chapter she talks about her experience in the Fellowship. Here are the words with which the chapter concludes:

"I’ve met with a lot of former members and they are not stupid. Most are highly intelligent. The newer groups are especially appealing to the well-educated. Recruitment is directed to the best, the brightest, and the most idealistic of persons. Every cult member is a recruiter whose sincerity is infectious. Please note: Because cult members can only associate with people inside the group, they will see outsiders purely as potential recruits or losers...
"Mind control exists – - it produces an inability to act from one‘s own integrity. Brainwashing is spiritual rape.

"Remember: No one ever thinks they are joining a cult."
Stella Wirk was the sixth student to join the school, along with her husband, Harold. They left the school in 1982, after refusing to pay a fine of $3,000 because of the recently established no smoking ["task"]. Stella recalls how she had spent years defending Robert against rumors about his sexual behavior, only to discover that it was all true. The late Lord John Pentland, of the Gurdjieff Foundation (the largest Fourth Way school, founded by Jeanne de Salzmann shortly after the death of Gurdjieff) told Stella and Harold in the mid-1980s that:

Burton is "making his students into children." That is, making them dependent on him (the "father figure"). Therefore, nobody has to "grow up." Pentland thought of the situation as very unfortunate.

(John Pentland, who died in 1984, worked with Ouspensky for a long time in the 1930s and 40s, and worked with Gurdjieff in his last year of life. From 1953 to 1984 he was president of the American branch of the Gurdjieff Foundation.) For my part, I could see that outside of school, in life, there is the 'desert', but many people try and work sincerely.

Many former students are normally in contact with each other, both in local groups in different cities and countries. Many schools were founded by students of the Fourth Way of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky operating in America, in Europe and in Italy. Because of the sexual habits of Robert and money management, the Fellowship fell under the scrutiny of the CAN, The Cult Awareness Network, the world's largest organization for the observation and control of sects and cults, which was active until 1996. In one of the leaflets of the CAN 1991 containing a partial list of potentially dangerous cults, the Fellowship is mentioned in the company of Scientology of Hare Krishna and other recognized controversial groups.

The information and the news reported in this letter were taken from:

Mystical Cult Prospers and Stirs Fears Mount - San Francisco Chronicle, 20 April 1981

Chief Sex Suit Hits Cult - Yuba City Valley Herald of 13 June 1984 [ed. - No link available.]

Looking back - Cult and Consequences (Chapter 7), 1988

'Cults' - Predators or Victims of Persecutions? - Appeal-Democrat on May 5, 1993

In the Name of Religion - San Diego Union Tribune, 12 March 1995

Trouble taints a Cerebral Sanctuary - Los Angeles Times on November 4, 1996

Copy of the letter sent March 27, 1980 by James B. to Sharole Manering at the request of Robert

Copy of the letter from Samuel L. Sanders Fellowship of Friends Board of Directors March 4, 1984

Copy of letters sent by Wim Pieters and Richard R. (Laurel) Buzbee students of Fellowship of Friends, Apollo

Extracts from the lawsuit filed by Samuel L. Sanders against the Fellowship of Friends and Robert Burton, submitted to the court --- California Yuba County, June 6, 1984

Extracts from the lawsuit brought by Troy Buzbee against the Fellowship of Friends and Robert Burton, submitted to the court - California Yuba County, April 29, 1996

On the internet:

History of FoF - (The Birth Fellowship of Friends Bonita told by Guido, the first student of the school.) [ed. - Link no longer functional, but account is captured here.]

Learn About Cults - (The experience of Stella Wirk, sixth student at school . On these pages is also reproduced a copy of the letter of Samuel Sanders and the letter sent to Sharole Manering.) [ed. - Link no longer functional. See Stella Wirk's page and the Internet Archive.]

Esoteric History Project - (with reproductions of some original documents and photos of the early years of the Fellowship of Friends.) [ed. - Link no longer fully functional. See also Stella Wirk's page and the Internet Archive.]

The System - [ed. - Link no longer fully functional] (These pages also reproduced the articles in the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union Tribune.)

Gurdjieff Home Page - (The schools of the Fourth Way with a direct or indirect connection with the teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspenski.)

Of, By & For the People - http:/ / ~ www.oronet./ ofbyfornews (also reproduced in these pages is the extract of the lawsuit brought by Troy Buzbee.) [ed. - Link no longer functional. See Troy Buzbee Lawsuit.]

If you want to know more about what you read, do not settle for answers that you can get in the school. The majority of students do not know anything or have a partial or distorted knowledge of the facts, especially in European centers. This was exactly my situation in my eight years in the Fellowship. If you want to see the documents listed above, you can of course get in touch with me and I will gladly provide you with a copy. I know there is a rule in school that forbids you to contact me. But, if the rule's purpose is to act as a third force to allow former students to return to school, then there is no infraction contacting me. It is not my intention to return to the Fellowship of Friends. Thank you for your attention and I greet you cordially.

[ed. - Interestingly, many of the same references are cited on the French website Prevensectes.]

Friday, March 28, 1997

Group got piece of mind

[ed. - From the Rick Ross Institute. See also The Thomas Easley Letters, Leaving the prison, and this 1993 story from the Appeal-Democrat.]
Ex-cultist fell prey to 18-yr. brainwash

Daily News/March 28, 1997

By Anne E. Kornblut

Thomas Easley's devotion to a California cult did not waver during his 18-year membership - not when he was raped, molested or told how to urinate. At age 47, eight years after he escaped, Easley thinks he understands why.

The cult leaders told him "to expand your awareness of the world, you have to start behaving in a particular manner, little by little," said Easley, now a Lake Tahoe, Calif., artist. "I did not believe I was being brainwashed."

Easley was a 21-year-old college dropout when a newspaper ad for the Fellowship of Friends-a group unrelated to the computer cult that committed suicide-caught his eye. Believing it was an enlightened group that met for philosophical discussions, he and his girlfriend paid a $35-a-month fee and joined.

The bi-weekly discussion groups about "human evolution" and "world awareness" seemed innocent enough, Easley said. "They were nice, normal, friendly, thoughtful people. I was very impressed with the knowledge they had."

After a few months, Easley, a runaway at age 16, and his girlfriend were flattered by the group's invitation to live in a communal home in Carmel, Calif., run by the leader, Robert Earl Burton. But they were unaware of the house rules.

Residents were forbidden to say "I," instead referring to themselves as "it," he said. They were pressured into getting nice ties, fashionable shoes and a taste for classical music. They turned over at least 10% of their salaries to the fellowship and were told they had better "never leave" the group.

Easley said he was barred from having sex with his girlfriend and was even instructed to urinate to the side of the toilet to make less noise.

And Burton, 58, who described himself as a "female goddess in a male body," molested Easley and demanded sex acts, Easley charged.

"He made me his personal secretary and chauffeur. I had to move into his bedroom," he said. "You assume there's something wrong with you, not the group."

The fellowship, a nonprofit corporation founded in 1971, has been sued twice by former cult members who alleged Burton pursued them and others for sex. Both suits were settled out of court, and the fellowship headquartered in Yuba County, Calif., insisted all sexual encounters were consensual.

Easley, cut off from his family and friends, moved quickly up the ranks of the sect. During those years, he sometimes questioned Burton's leadership but never objected outright.

It took a 1989 visit to the Dalai Lama for Easley to at last hear that "sexuality and spirituality don't mix." His instincts confirmed, Easley wrote Burton to warn him he was going public with the cult's activities.

In the years since, Easley has devoted himself to warning others away from similar groups telling reporters about his experiences and appearing on tabloid TV shows.

The mass suicide of members of a different cult has reminded Easley of a phenomenon "that's been happening for years."

"I expected to gain some meaningful knowledge. It was a fraud," he said. "I'm sure these Higher Source people lived, and were brainwashed, in the same way."

Sunday, March 23, 1997

Heaven's Gate members commit suicide

[ed. - This post is entered into the timeline approximately where the tragic event occurred. For the story, see Diane Sawyer's ABC News report referenced in the trailer below.]

 Heaven's Gate Cult Initiation Tape Part 1 


"Associated Press" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 8, 2022:

The extraordinary Diane Sawyer Event Special premieres Friday night, March 11 at 9|8c on ABC & stream on Hulu.

Sawyer explores the Heaven’s Gate cult and the shocking discovery of the largest mass suicide on American soil 25 years later.

‘The Cult Next Door' trailer