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.

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Prophet Motive

By Todd Dever

The Wave Magazine
April 6 - 15, 2005

We all take great pride in the Bay Area’s tradition of leading the world in technology, wine, culture and progressive politics … but there’s one more field in which we lead the globe, though it’s rarely celebrated. For the past 40 years, the Bay Area has been the world’s top breeding ground for totally whacked-out, bizarro, kinky, freakazoid cults.

We’ve handpicked what we believe are the worst of the most bizarre cults with ties to the Bay Area and presented their stories below. But don’t think for a moment that crazy cults are a thing of the past, the unfortunate hangover of the hippie era. “Since I started my work in 1982, the cult phenomenon has just been growing and growing and growing,” says full-time cult basher Rick Ross, who runs the Rick Ross Institute, a non-profit anti-cult foundation he founded after watching his grandmother get duped by a scam cult. “I can’t think of any time in the last 20 years that it’s been bigger than it is right now. I think America has become increasingly religious, and we’re at the most religious point in our nation’s history. People are searching for answers, a sense of community and belonging. These groups seem to provide that and [cults are] becoming an ever-increasing phenomenon in America.”

Founder: Robert Earl Burton

History: Founded as a non-profit church in 1971 by a former elementary school teacher and San Jose State alum, FoF members believe their leader is “an angel in a man’s body,” whose spiritual authority is trumped only by Jesus Christ. Followers also believe that Burton has the ability to speak with up to 44 other angels, including Benjamin Franklin. Burton is renowned for his strange rules (no swimming, smoking or jokes are allowed – and homosexuality was banned until 1993, despite Burton’s allegedly renowned appetite for men) and even stranger predictions (though he was wrong about predicting a 1998 earthquake that would destroy California, he sticks by his claim that a nuclear holocaust will ruin the earth in ’06 and only FoF members will be spared). More than 600 FoF members live on their infamous Yuba County vineyard known as Apollo, where they produce up to 40,000 cases of wine per year under the Renaissance Vineyard and Emery [sic: "Renaissance Vineyard and Winery"] labels. Their award-winning wine is so respected in the industry that it has been served to the Prince of Wales, former president George H. W. Bush, at one of Ronald Reagan’s birthday parties, and the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco sells the Renaissance Cabernet 1996 for $10 a glass.

Sex scandal: Though the church is more noted for tax evasion (they’re currently paying off more than $2 million in back taxes), the FoF was slapped with a $5 million lawsuit in 1996 by a former member who claimed he was brainwashed and sexually abused by Burton. The suit stated the church was a front for Burton’s “voracious appetite for perverted sexual pleasure and elegant lifestyle.” The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.