Introduction


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.")

But 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.

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 from official Fellowship publications and websites, news archives, court documents, cult education and awareness forums, the Internet Archive, the long-running Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the (former) Fellowship of Friends wikispace project, the (ill-fated 2007) Fellowship of Friends Wikipedia page, 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.

Wednesday, April 29, 1998

"Italian Government Report on Cults in Italy - a preliminary investigation"

[ed. - The following comes from the Cult Education Institute site. It is an extract from the larger government report:]
The Fellowship of Friends

The Fellowship of Friends (FOF) has been officially acknowledged by local and federal government as a religious and non-profit organization since 1971 (in the USA, the only requirement that must be satisfied to have this status is to organize regular meetings and have a religious statute).

The founder and leader is Robert Burton, [58] years old, a former primary schools teacher, and a former attendee of the Quaker Church in Berkeley (this experience may have inspired Burton the name of the cult).

In 1968, Burton was fascinated by the books of George Gurdjieff and Peter Ouspensky, two esoteric types and founders of a religious-philosophic teaching - that include various influences from Christian mysticism, Sufism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism. The ultimate aim [of this philosophic teaching] is to reach the "Fourth Way" - that is the "liberation and full consciousness of the being".

In 1970 Burton convinced some friends of Contra Costa county he was a the "fifth man", referred to by Ouspensky defined as "a conscious being with a higher knowledge and emotions [than] the majority of people".

In 1971 the group bought some estates in the Yuba county, near the small community of Oregon House, and in 1973, following the esoteric idea - that observance of specific traditions helps one reach spiritual enlightenment. The group turned the soil, planted vines and started an agricultural concern - called "Renaissance". The Products of this enterprise won international prizes and supposedly were tasted by the Prince of Wales, former president George Bush and other international figures.

The community grew more and more and became known as "Apollo" - now 600 of the 2,000 members of FOF live there. They contribute directly to the organization working in many activities - from administration to the cultivation. These people receive a salary of about [$500 dollars per month] (meals are provided by the association) - but Burton himself reportedly receives an annual salary of $250,000.00 plus additional benefits.

Other followers of the FOF operate about 40 "centers" - usually, rented houses occupied by a half dozen or so members. These centers are scattered in cities within the United States, Europe and South America.

To recruit new members FOF devotees often have inserted a bookmark within specific volumes at bookstores regarding metaphysics - around the world. On the bookmarks there are, along with pictures of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, the phone numbers of the nearest centers operated by the FOF.

People who respond to these bookmarks are then invited to attend group meetings - where the leaders of the center present some of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky's theories. Also - they may receive some information about the seven fundamental "Body Types" that seem to help broad psychological research within the human soul.

Subsequently, if the new comer is considered "suitable", he may become part of the organization. Due to this original technique of recruitment - it seems that the foreign membership has continuously grown. Today membership outside the United States may now form the majority of FOF.

All the members must give to the organization 10% of their income every month. Also special donations are often required to buy sculptures, paintings, and other art works, considered useful tools to enrich the soul and stimulate "self-remembering".

The group's leader Robert Burton spends much of his time on trips, in order to teach at the various centers scattered around the world and to look for new artworks to collect. As a consequence, the Association owns many fine porcelains, European Renaissance paintings, and Chinese furniture.

Burton's preaching (he is called "the Teacher") is almost nonsense.

He supposedly maintains contact with the "C influence" formed by 44 angels. Among these are Jesus, Plato, Goethe, Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln.

Moreover, Burton predicted that a earthquake would destroy California in 1998, and that in 2006 there will be a world nuclear holocaust. Only Apollo Community and FOF members will survive these disasters.

Daily life within the sect is regulated by very rigid rules: it is forbidden to swim, joke, smoke and all the given teachings must be kept. All those outside the association are considered "enemies", especially the police, doctors, priests and institutions in general. That is--whatever is seen as an obstacle to spiritual enlightenment must be removed.

Until 1993 homosexuality too was banned, though Burton himself is a homosexual and has often had sexual encounters with his followers. Some ex-members have accused Burton of exploiting his charisma and power within the FOF to satisfy himself. This was the basis for some judicial proceedings that caused many members to leave the group (i.e. Burton was sued in United States for abuse of trust, sexual abuse of minors, and psychological suffering intentionally caused).

There are FOF Centers in Florence, Rome, Venice, and Palermo. The total number of Italian members seems to be about 50.

[End of FOF section within report]

Tuesday, April 14, 1998

Judge's Order to Dismiss Lawsuit filed by Fellowship of Friends

[ed. - It's quite a distraction to be pursuing a lawsuit when your "church" should be totally focused on preparing for the Fall of California, which Burton had predicted would occur April 12, 1998. This diversion of conscious attention no doubt led to the dismissal of the Fellowship's lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times, Jennifer Warren, Margaret Singer, Janja Lalich, and John Does 1 through 500. From Cult Education Institute here and here. The lawsuit was brought after the Times published "Trouble at a Cerebral Sanctuary". ]






Sunday, April 12, 1998

Robert Burton feels humiliated when California fails to fall, and millions do not perish

[ed. - I took the liberty of inserting this recollection at the "Fall of California's" appointed hour. The following comes from Cult Education Institute:]
Apparently influenced by Warren [sic - Walter] Miller's best-selling book of the time, Canticle for Liebowitz [sic], depicting a ravaged world after the world catastrophe, Burton made a number of prophecies, one of which was that California would fall into the sea on April 12, 1998 at 11 A.M. Those with him, being the elect of Christianity, would not perish. Like Liebowitz in the book, eight years after starting his school and now known as "The Teacher," Burton stopped teaching to travel the globe to amass - he would no doubt say "salvage" - a large collection of art work as a kind of cultural ark in the coming Armageddon. (A recent auction of Burton's collection of rare antique Chinese furniture at Christie's in New York City brought in $11.2 million.). When the day passed for California to fall into the sea, Burton explained it with, "The Higher Powers (he claims to speak to 44 discarnate beings) have humiliated me."

"No person" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, June 8, 2007 at 8:24 p.m.:
On the day of the earthquake in 1998 a large portion of our center in Moscow went to a cafe where the TV news were on, and sat there staring at the TV for many long hours, waiting to hear the news about the earthquake. I don’t remember if it was official “task” or if it was center directors initiative to do this. Earthquake didn’t happen, and we went home in awkward silence. We felt very confused.

I wouldn’t say that most people didn’t believe in predictions. To my observation most of us had mixed feelings – kind of not believing and also thinking: What if he’s right? Some truly believed, and some people I personally know did get hurt by it financially very badly… Robert said that he is “saving student’s lives” when he very strictly demanded that all students from Bay area take few weeks off their jobs and move to Isis, which for many resulted in loss of their jobs. It was for real, not metaphorical. I never heard Robert ever apologize for causing so much suffering and difficulty to his students and I was actually hoping that he would. He blamed it on c-influence, and didn’t take any responsibility at all.

Also, he hasn’t given up on this predictions stuff. Just in case you don’t remember, there were many, many “quake alerts” after 1998 in years to follow, when similar suggestions were made – not to fly to Bay area, get out of there during certain dates etc. Ask guys who lived in Galleria for a while how many times since 1998 they were preparing for the predicted quake, taking pictures off the walls, wrapping fragile stuff to avoid breakage… This was not symbolic – this was very literal! Ask them – they may share some stories with you.

Last time I personally heard of another California earthquake warning was as recent as December 2006, I think the dates were 26 or 27 but I don’t recall exactly. It was delivered to me by a devoted “inner circle” student, and he said this news were intended for inner circle only… (Thanks for including me, by the way!)
So as you can see, RB’s obsession with prophecies is still going on. May be it’s incurable. I have a feeling he is fascinated with disasters and death, somehow he tends to predict only “bad” stuff… How about some positive prediction, some good news for a change?

"Flying Free" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, on April 27, 2007 at 8:41 p.m.:
To #349 Somebody [post number and blogger]
You may not have been around for the earlier years (late 80′s and 90′s), but Roger Cavanna dropped out of sight of the FoF (while remaining a member), and stayed in the Bay area. During the 1998 prediction, he refused and had nothing to do with the directive ‘leave your home and business and move up to the foothills, so you don’t drown”. For most of us he was an ‘old time‘ student who had a carpet company in the Bay area. Never seen. I was really surprised to see him show up one day at Apollo, and then more of him, until he and Pamela ended up building a house at OH. During that time he became very ill and as you know died shortly after completing his dream house.
I have always been curious as to ‘why’ he returned, got active, and then Pamela rejoined. She seemed such an intelligent lady, and very independent. And he was no slouch either.
I guess one could not know what went on behind the scenes unless you were to sit down with Pamela and have a chat.

"KathrynF" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 26, 2007 at 11:42 p.m.:
FOF Member for 32 years
1971-2003
Having been disillusioned by the mass of lies, criminal behavior, lust, greed, and so on, hidden deep in the FOF underbelly, which remains well-veiled from — well-buffered by — members, looking back we may forget why we joined, and why we stayed. Talking to Ramona recently, we agreed what an exquisite pleasure it was to be an “ordinary” member – the long, deep talks with friends; hugs and smiles; expansive intellectual discussions; emotional and physical beauty; incredible concerts; dances; dinners, wine, poetry; deep and poignant insights; lofty studies; adventures. How many times were we transported to other dimensions? Many…many…

But at some point, you can no longer condone, support, or buffer RB’s abusive lifestyle.

My husband and I got kicked out briefly in 1998 because we didn’t quit our jobs, sell our house, and move to the property during the “fall of California”. Relieved at being released, it also shoved me deeply into rumination on my many years as a member, and for six hours I hovered in a “long, slow, near-death experience” — retrospection of 27 years of membership at that point. Each person I had encountered in the FOF surfaced one by one, and the essence of our relationship permeated my understanding. Thousands of people known and loved, struggled with, appreciated! Toward the end of the cycle I realized, “What a fabulous place to have spent my life.” Unfortunately, we were given a dispensation, despite our lack of trust, and were reinstated as FOF members. Arrrggghhh. I would have to actually leave of my own volition, and that took another five years.

Ames Gilbert wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 10, 2008:
Daily Cardiac (#294 or thereabouts) [blogger and post number],

You’ve just answered the question about how seriously Burton took his own predictions, despite your attempt to excuse Burton by claiming he qualified them (he never did so in my presence, and he must have talked about the various predictions at least fifty times in my hearing over many years). The answer was that he took them very seriously, because he told people to move to Apollo, buy food for the 1984 depression, and so on. As for your example, I’d say that there were 100 people who bet that California would fall. They took out loans predicated on the assumption that they would not have to repay them. Hence the many stunning McMansions in the most dubious taste. Many people took out lines of credit, as did Burton and the Fellowship of Friends, presuming that these debts would not have to be repaid. Some people even bet on a stock market crash. And, what is your explanation for the fleet of brand-new quarter-million dollar RVs, tractors and so on parked at the south end of the property a couple of weeks before the Big One was predicted? And that was just what I could see with my own eyes, since I lived right there and passed them every day. I also noticed that they disappeared soon after the abject failure of the prophecy. Anyone else smell greed and fraud here?

I had some things to say about Burton’s prophecies before, especially as to their purpose—to engender fear or infatuation in the followers. I won’t bore everyone by repeating them here, but in case you missed them, one was to was to Hava Nagillah (# 11-2) and another was to Golb (# 11-114) [bloggers, page and post numbers].

"Walter Tanner" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, June 7, 2007:
Fellow Travelers,

If it is true that Fellowship officials are trying to re-cast Robert’s failed prophecies as somehow metaphorical, then they are truly the hypocritical cronies some make them out to be.

I was living at Apollo Spring-Summer 1998 when California was to fall into the Sea. Most students who could stored up food, installed water tanks, bought generators…the guy I lived with even got a hydraulic jack in case his house (on a hill) collapsed! I personally knew one individual who nearly bankrupted his family with his “preparations.” Luckily his wife had a good job.

Students in Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles got “out of town” for a particular two-week period–I don’t recall the exact dates–that Robert said were the most likely times. At the company where I worked (in Oregon House), sales trips were also cancelled at this time.

It was a level of madness, but hey, there are earthquakes in California and it never hurts to have some food stored away. So I contributed to the house food fund, but the only other “preparation” I made was to buy a nice combo mountain-touring bike.

When it didn’t happen Robert was just confused as to why C influence would trick him in this manner. The most sophisticated Fellowship theologians (I consider myself in the category) said it was obviously some divinely given “suffering” for Robert’s higher centers to transform.

So no more talk that anything was taken metaphorical. Maybe privately by certain folks, but everyone’s public face was making “preparations.”