Introduction


Presented in reverse chronology, this history stretches from the present back to the Fellowship's 1970 founding, and beyond.
(See "Blog Archive" in the sidebar below.) It draws from many sources, including The Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the former Fellowship of Friends wiki project, cult education and awareness sites, news archives, and from the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

The portrait that emerges stands in stark contrast to sanitized versions presented on the Fellowship's array of
alluring websites, and on derivative sites created by Burton's now-estranged
disciple, Asaf Braverman.

Friday, March 28, 1997

Group got piece of mind

From Rick Ross Institute:
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, Eaasley 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."

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