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, August 25, 2002

Statement from Former Member of Fellowship of Friends

From the Freedom of Mind Center:
Beginning in 1974, I spent 8 years as a member of “Fellowship of Friends” cult in California. Supposedly, we were studying “4th way” ideas, but the “teacher” had his own agenda. Like myself, many members were sincere in seeking a ”higher state of being” or what others might call “enlightenment”.

We, of course, were encouraged to shun and have no further contact with former members. However, one day a chance encounter with a “former student” led to the revelation that the “teacher”, Robert Burton, was a homosexual–and quite active at that. At first this information was difficult to believe, since there was a rule against homosexual behavior within the “school” and, further, Burton had indicated that he was celibate! My acquaintance suggested contacting another ex-member who had been in a relationship with the “teacher”, from whom I learned many sordid details regarding Robert Earl Burton.

Robert’s modus operandi was to select the young men who appealed and quickly move them to the “inner circle”; these young men(many were under the age of legal consent) were invited to travel with Robert(in grand style) and to live with him at his private residence as a virtual harem. My acquaintance had been married when he entered FOF, however a la King David, Robert quickly dispatched the inconvenient wife to a distant “teaching center” so as to indulge his lust. He informed me that Robert’s appetite for young men was voracious.

My disenchantment was replete when Robert didn’t deny this information. Also others in high positions tried (weakly) to justify his behavior, saying “it was food for his higher centers!!!!!”. Now the young men who disappeared in the night to never be heard from again, the odd sleeping arrangements, the endless change of residents at his house, the arranged marriages for former paramours all made sense.

I believe that Robert Burton has harmed and damaged many sincere young men. Those around him who know of this and protect him share in his guilt. He has used his position of power and trust to satisfy his lusts, without regard for the consequences to others. He has invoked higher powers to overcome the objections of unwilling partners, telling them that “higher forces” were thus pleased.

Finally, Robert Burton relished destroying anyone who had the temerity to leave FOF. He had his assistant call me after I had left to inform me that, in his words “I had died”.

See more at Steven Hassan's "Fellowship of Friends" page. Steven is a former "Moonie."

Saturday, August 17, 2002

Award-winning Yuba County winery also serves as a cult

[ed. - Gathered from An AP version of this article also appeared on Link ( no longer active.]
Fellowship of Friends cult wine, Renaissance Vineyard and Winery, Oregon House, CA
Sacramento Bee/August 17, 2002

By Stefanie Frith

Oregon House, Calif. -- Tucked away in the Yuba County countryside lies a winery that produces award-winning wines that have been served at a birthday party for Ronald Reagan and at numerous restaurants, such as the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco.

Admirers of the Renaissance Winery and Vineyards praise its ability to make what one critic called wines that "belong in every cellar" in the sometimes cold, sometimes brutally hot climate of Oregon House, where no other winery operates. But Renaissance, part of a community called the Fellowship of Friends, has problems beyond growing grapes.

Called a cult by ex-members, neighbors and cult experts, the Fellowship has fought with county officials over taxes and been sued by former members. That, wine sellers said, makes it hard for Renaissance to promote its wines, because part of the art of selling wine means playing up a winery's history.

Renaissance's story, however, is "too bizarre," said Wilfred Wong, a San Francisco-based wine buyer. "While their quality is good, there are a lot of other wines out there and I just don't want to work with a winery that has all that excess baggage."

Winery officials, who agreed only to a telephone interview and would not speak about the Fellowship, said they are trying to drop that "baggage" by experimenting with new wines and new labels.

With 365 acres of vines in a 1,300-acre compound called Apollo that covers the rocky hillsides of the Sierra foothills as well as the plateaus below, it has been a challenge learning which grapes grow best in the rugged terrain, said Tim Quartly-Watson, general manager of Renaissance Winery and Vineyards.

"We are still learning and we are going to be learning 100 years from now," said Quartly-Watson, a Fellowship member who moved from England to California six years ago.

Renaissance produces 25,000 cases of wine a year, part of what a winery brochure calls its "art of living ... and labor of love."

With about 2,000 members, one third of which live in or near Apollo, the Fellowship follows the Fourth Way tradition of spiritual development that was developed by turn-of-the-century Russian philosophers George Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky, said Steven Hassan, a Boston-based cult expert who has counseled former members of the Fellowship. The Fourth Way teaches that humans are asleep and can only wake up through a series of extreme exercises and observations that break down the old personality and develop a higher consciousness.

Apollo was designed to aid this process. It was started in 1974 by former Bay Area elementary school teacher Robert Burton, a follower of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. They have their own school, restaurant, cemetery and museum, insulating them from the rest of Yuba County, a mostly rural area about 90 minutes north of Sacramento.

They are virtually unknown to their neighbors in Oregon House, a community of about 2,000 people hidden among thick trees and narrow roads. The winery sticks out in this area of mobile homes, deserted shacks and old pickup trucks, its entrance protected by a guard and lined with potted palm trees.

"They are unlike you and me," said Sandy Gaggero, a retiree who lives near the winery, one of the few neighbors who were willing to speak about the Fellowship. "They are low key and are almost brain-dead. They are really on another level. It's a cult. They don't make decisions for themselves."

Yuba County officials have had disputes with the Fellowship, said county tax assessor David Brown. The group once sued the county unsuccessfully to get a tax exemption for its museum. They have also claimed they were a nonprofit organization, but the county proved them wrong and denied that request as well, Brown said.

Until recently, the Fellowship also owed the county about $2 million in taxes, but they are currently on a payment plan to pay it back, said county supervisor Hal Stocker.

Former members have sued Burton, claiming brainwashing and even sexual abuse, according to court records. In 1996, a former member sued for $5 million, claiming Burton had sexually exploited him at age 17. That suit was settled months later.

The suit claimed the Fellowship was being used to further Burton's "voracious appetite for perverted sexual pleasure and elegant lifestyle." Burton is portrayed as a leader who considers himself "an angel in a man's body" who communicates with up to 44 angels, including Benjamin Franklin and is second in spiritual power only to Jesus Christ, said former members and experts.

Part of the Fellowship's appeal, Hassan said, is that it presents an illusion of intellectuality to those who believe that Gurdjieff was an enlightened being.

"Many people who he entranced thought he was incredible and magnetic and started their own groups, like Burton," said Hassan. "And I have yet to find (a group) that is healthy."

Renaissance officials dispute the characterization of their community as a cult. "We are a cultivated winery, Quartly-Watson said.

Matt Kramer, a columnist for Wine Spectator magazine and author of "Making Sense of California Wine," said he admires the winery's courage in taking on the difficult microclimate. He called the Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling "very promising" and great deals for the price.

"They are still feeling out what grows best in that microclimate," said Kramer. "How long it will take them to become fully revealed is unknown."

At San Francisco's Ritz-Carlton, wine director Stephane Lacroix has been serving Renaissance's Cabernet 1996 at $10 a glass for three years. He said it has good balance and a fresh finish.

"There is value and quality and I never took into consideration anything else about them," Lacroix said. "They are quite professional people who are serious about making quality wine."

[ed. - Local reaction to the story from "Wacky Wine News".]
Many collectors of California wines seek out those tiny production bottlings which have garnered high numerical scores.  This category of wine has been dubbed "cult wines."

Now a California winery has given new meaning to this term.

An Associated Press article says ex-members, neighbors and cult experts claim The Fellowship of Friends, owners of Yuba County's "Renaissance Winery," is a cult.

Described as following "The Fourth Way" tradition of spiritual development at it's winery/living quarters compound, Renaissance representatives are tight-lipped about the group's activities.
We first became aware of the winery many years ago.  Not having tasted many wines worthy of purchase, we did place a call to the winery to inquire about their "fellowship."   Responses to our questions regarding their practices were evasive.

The AP article, printed in the San Francisco Examiner on August 19, 2002, says former members of the group have sued the founder of the fellowship.  They claim they were brainwashed and abused sexually. The article says one law suit, for $5 million, claiming the founder of the group sexually exploited a 17 year old, was settled out of court.

The article contends the founder is portrayed as "an angel in a man's body" and he communicates with up to 44 angels, including Benjamin Franklin.

Maybe Ben ought to tell this fellow to go fly a kite!

[ed. - Cult de-programmer Rick Ross chimes in:]
Cult winos

Posted in Fellowship of Friends at 10:15 am August 20, 2002 by Rick Ross

A notorious cult group led by an alleged sexual predator is producing wine by the truckload according to the Sacramento Bee. But despite the groups long sordid history and questionable working conditions, one columnist for the effete “Wine Spectator” calls their product line “very promising.” Hey, Sadaam Hussein has some “promising” petroleum products, why not give him a plug?

The “Fellowship of Friends,” led by Robert Burton is selling wine around California and many buyers don’t seem to care that it’s produced by cult labor. Sniffed the “Wine Director” at the San Francisco Ritz Carlton, who sells the stuff at $10 per glass, “There is value and quality and I never took into consideration anything else about them.” Maybe the hotel should take advantage of the “value” provided by “quality” goods made through child labor and sweatshops?

One apparently more concerned buyer concluded, “While their quality is good, there are a lot of other wines out there and I just don’t want to work with a winery that has all that excess baggage.” Sounds like principle won out over profit with at least one businessman.

[ed. - In 2002, Fellowship member William Coney was appointed President and CEO of the winery. According to his resume, the following reorganization began:]
President / CEO
Renaissance Vineyard and Winery
Sacramento, CA
February 2002 to June 2005
Approached by Board to produce new marketing and sales plan. Appointed President / CEO with directive to end chronic cash flow / profitability problems. Direct to consumer branded business. Initiated major business restructuring: asset write downs, renegotiation of loans, repositioning of company from mid-size producer to small boutique vintner. Worked intensively with Board, lenders, and outside auditors to ensure successful transition. Rebuilt management team around winemaker while restructuring sales organization to focus on telemarketing. Produced 60% sales increase with new strategy. Improved cash flow through 50% headcount reduction, tight cost cutting and control.

Saturday, August 10, 2002

The Apollo Theatron is dedicated

Apollo Theatron 2002 with "concealing palms." Photo by J. Makaeva.

[ed. - The Fellowship of Friends outdoor amphitheater, known as the Apollo Theatron, was constructed, illegally, over the course of several years. The building had not been approved by Yuba County. See: "Build it, (and the inspectors will come.)"]

Submitted via e-mail by a former Fellowship member, November 7, 2016:
From: On Behalf Of Apollo Pressroom
Sent: Sunday, August 11, 2002 3:04 PM
To: Daily Card List

Subject: Dedication of the Apollo Theatron, August 10, 2002

Dedication of the Apollo Theatron, August 10, 2002
Let our artists be those who are gifted to discern the true nature of the beautiful and graceful; then will our youth dwell in a land of health, amid fair sights and sounds, and receive the good in everything; and beauty, the effluence of fair works, shall flow into the eye and ear, like a health-giving breeze from a purer region, and insensibly draw the soul from earliest years into likeness and sympathy with the beauty of reason. There can be no nobler training than that. - Socrates, in Plato¹s The Republic
This Theatron is dedicated to self-remembering, the fairest of all states man can produce both in the performers and the audience throughout its entire history. The Gods and myself wish to thank everyone in every part of our School for the many sacrifices they have made in order to make this event possible.

Thank you.

Love, Robert

The former member added,
[The Theatron] was in use for about 4 years where some pretty incredible ballet performances were held featuring, as much as possible, dancers from the Marinsky and Bolshoi. Even Natalia Makarova attended at one point, sitting next to Robert. I have videos of the dozen or so performances staged there.

While still under construction, county officials needed to visit Apollo for other reasons, and would be driving up to the winery where they might look down at the Theatron. Naturally, there were no building permits for the Theatron. So to hide the Theatron, hundreds of potted plants, mainly palm trees, were brought in to cover the stage, seating area, steps, etc. It was explained that this area was a nursery. The ruse worked.

After the 4 years in operation, someone had the bright idea to seal the limestone to protect it from the elements. Problem is, they sealed it after the first rains that winter. This caused water to become trapped in the limestone after the sealant was applied, then to expand with the cold temperatures, and finally to crack the limestone throughout the entire structure. Seating area, steps, everything was ruined, and it has been in this condition for the past 10 years. Omens anyone?