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 an ominous, yet unspecified new threat late in 2018.) While non-believers shall perish, through the direct intervention and guidance from 44 angels (including his divine father, Leonardo da Vinci) Burton and his followers will 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 (former) Fellowship Wikipedia page, the long-running Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the (former) Fellowship of Friends wiki project, 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, May 9, 2007

Joseph's Story

"Joseph G." wrote the following on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 9, 2007:
WhaleRider [blogger], I can vouch for your story, as it mirrors my own in many details. And of course we knew each other well. I was 23 in 1978 when Robert came on to me. Not as many times nor as intensely as you describe, but otherwise the same story. Some historic context: in those days many people slept on floors in sleeping bags. For some of us the Blake Cottage was simply an upgrade from sleeping at the Lodge under a dining table. When I moved in there I had no idea that Robert would do what he did. I think it happened less than ten times to me altogether. This covert sex life was emotionally stressful for me, but not unbearable. During my time in Robert’s entourage I received only three gifts that I can remember: a rosewood pen & pencil set, a special-press edition of the Rubaiyat, and an Hermes cashmere jacket. The jacket had actually been purchased for another student but didn’t fit him, so someone had the idea it might fit me. I was married in that jacket less than a year later. Not difficult to do the math in hindsight. There were no orgies back then, at least that I am aware of. There were no Russian students hoping to get green cards, or sex for vouchers either. I worked with a chain saw clearing land in advance of the vineyard landscaping and planting. Lots of poison oak. I remember distinctly that I did not want undue gifts for what I did. The pervasive sense of service, shared conviction and shared affection was very satisfying, probably addictive. We would work hard during the day and take turns serving each other at night. My evening job was providing wine, which strangely has remained my profession to this day. It’s hard to say exactly when I realized that I was not the one and only lover Robert had, but at whatever point I did realize this fact, I also assumed there were probably no more than a few others. I also had no awareness of people getting hurt at the time. I never talked about it, nor did my housemates. In hindsight this seems incredibly naive, even at 20-something. What needs to be understood is that the men close to Robert were envied by many in the community, and continue to be today. Not because of the sex or the gifts, but because they were allowed to be close to the teacher. This is important to understand because when you envy someone it is extremely difficult to think of that person as a victim. And when you are envied by others it is also difficult to think of yourself as a victim. This dynamic has become even more acute lately, as Robert has substantially withdrawn himself from personal contact with most of this run of the mill students.

The big difference in my story from WhaleRider’s is that I stayed in. It has only been one month since I left the FOF, and 31 years since I joined. Consequently I have many friends in the FOF today. Some are probably reading this. If I had known what Ames or Charles or Miles knew, I may have left earlier. But I did not know everything they knew. Even now I think many FOF members do not know, and some absolutely do not want to know. Although no longer an FOF student, some of the revelations of this Blog have been shameful and horrifying to me, and I agree with the many comments regarding conscience as a glaring weak spot, both within myself and in the FOF. In my own case it was not the sex or the abuse of power that provoked me to leave the FOF. I left because I lost all respect for the teaching. It has no integrity for me now. The “real school” I thought I joined in 1976, the practical school that urged me to verify everything and remember myself always and everywhere, that valued being over knowledge, has been turned into a weird circus of revisionism, numerology and inane ritual. With four children at home I simply could not justify paying $15K to $20K per year merely to attend concerts, community markets and potager lunches. Going to a meeting or dinner with Robert had become a dreaded experience for me; and yet I tended to blame myself for no longer being able to connect with my teacher or with his obtuse and increasingly delusional teaching. Being free is an unexpected relief. I am happy and grateful to find myself in the role of a beginner once again.

With love,

Joseph G.

Joseph's Story, continued, July 24, 2007:
There are a relatively small number of people doing most of the talking here, but a lot of quiet ones out there watching and listening. A lot of current members. Some of them are still sitting at the front of the room next to Robert at meetings. Some holding his hand under the Galleria breakfast table. Some of them own houses up on the hill. Some of them have kids in LCS [Lewis Carroll School], jobs at RVW [Renaissance Vineyard and Winery]. But they’re reading. It feels like behind-the-iron-curtain just before perestroika. People watching, hoping, fearing, and talking very quietly to one another, often in code, because you never know for sure who the hard-core devotees are.

Carrying the metaphor, this blog is Radio Free Fellowship. I suggest we not get “blogged” down by Simple Truth or Fat Boy [both bloggers]. It’s not that they’re idiots; they’re simply not very relevant. Bass Ackwards [blogger] is relevant. David [blogger](#5:121)[blog page and  post number] is relevant. Their voices represent the hundreds who are still IN but trying to carve their own path, maybe through the middle, maybe simply OUT but without the baggage, maybe just trying to understand how it all happened before they leave. The FOF Taliban on this blog who shout their asinine platitudes and take photographing Bruce as their righteous-and-oh-so-noble cause don’t deserve the bandwidth we grant them by responding. Every once in a while someone like Confused comes along and surprises us by telling the real truth, showing what everyone is really thinking. That some do still respect Robert Burton. They’ve seen he has certain powers. They know he’s helped people in ways besides financial. Maybe he even helped them once or twice when they really needed it…and yes, maybe he’s brain-washed them a little. Yet they are here reading this now, reading the incremental-but-gradually-whole truth, and being forced to do something with it. On the other hand, I know for a fact that many current members now regard Robert as nothing more or less than a grotesque cartoon character. Kind of like really gross anime. Compromised and ridiculous, but possibly a necessary evil in their vision of a loving, art-focused community. Their main question: should I bail now, or hang on a little longer to help my friends, arrange my parachute, understand where it all went bad?

A few questions I personally think should be asked more often: Why was it essential for FOF-style evolution that Isis/Apollo/Renaissance be preserved as the seat of squalid, deeply entrenched poverty over decades? How can anyone in their right mind think Isis lifestyle is or ever was actually good for their children, YOUR children? How much more time out of your brief lifetime are you willing to throw away, your precious time bleeding away like good money after bad, because waking up from the FOF dream is just too unthinkable? When do the wives realize that their hubbies didn’t just have a few isolated experiences of sex with RB, but still do it every time they go to a wine cellar dinner? When does the young newlywed realize how at-risk she is of a nasty sexual disease from that gorgeous RB-boy import she snagged? When do we stop being mad and just become sad, because it is all too sad and pathetic and soul-sucking? Maybe that’s the whole question: RB sucked a lot of cocks, but what about the souls, your souls, that he continues to suck and suck…and suck?

Not “with love” today. Screw that.

Joseph G

"Joseph G" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, September 16, 2007:
Ames Gilbert #573 [blogger and post number]

“I’d be interested in what you intuit our collective or individual responsibility might be, as co–actors and enablers, as donors of our individual power for a length of time, short or long, to Burton. What does your emotional center say about our complicity?”

Bistro Fundraiser #584:

“We are well past the point of describing the FOF as a “benign” organization that does no harm. The Fellowship of Friends does harm, both to its members and to society at large. And beyond simply leaving the cult, I often ask myself what I have done to oppose it. Honestly, almost nothing. Even if the FOF simply fades into the night, barely a footnote in anyone’s memory 100 years from now, my question is whether or not each of holds some responsibility in this. To answer my own question: Yes, we do hold responsibility — each of us — as long as we stay, as long as we say nothing, as long as we continue to deny.”

Vena #586:

“This is a very alive question for many of us, but I for one, have not come to an understanding for myself of what I might do. What kind of action are you suggesting?”

This “complicity / conscience / responsibility issue” is also a big question – perhaps THE question – for me. My own response to it has mostly been to post my thoughts here, and to specifically target current members with my messages. However, at a certain point this type of communication began to feel redundant and irrelevant. After all, it’s all pretty much been said by now, hasn’t it? For any current FOF member reading this blog I think the seed for leaving has probably been well planted, or else it never will be.

Consequently I wrote several letters this summer as a continuation of the sense of responsibility I personally feel as a (for the most part) passive “enabler” for many years in the FOF. The responses below may provide some practical insight into “paths of conscience” available beyond the blog, provided both the will and the necessary resources for taking action were to come together. For myself, I reached an emotional impasse following the third one, and have taken a wait-and-see attitude since.

The first response is from the Yuba County DA; the second from a legal friend of mine; and the third from a small town reporter at a nearby newspaper.

Response #1

Good evening Mr. G –

This office reviews criminal investigations submitted to us by law enforcement agencies to determine what evidence is legally admissible and what, if any crime, is supported by that evidence. Any investigatory work done by this office is supplementary to the original investigation. Your e-mail suggests that there would be a variety of legal issues concerning the conduct you describe – including the laws that govern the time limitations in which a criminal case can be filed, jurisdiction over the location of the alleged acts, and issues regarding consensual acts as opposed to forcible acts.

The case decisions that govern the criminal “rape” statutes can be somewhat complex, especially in the area of actual or apparent consent. It is rarely helpful to look at selected language from a particular case decision and apply it generally to the crime. The quotation you provided is perhaps a good example: rape is what is termed a specific intent crime, and cannot be committed through what might be generally called negligence. Generally, if a “perpetrator” subjectively believes that the “victim” is consenting, and the surrounding circumstances are not inconsistent with that belief, there has been no criminal act. “Date rape” cases are an example of such a problem.

You are correct in stating that we take sexual assault cases seriously. We have a number of prosecutors on staff who have specialized in evaluating and presenting these cases. If a case concerning Mr. Burton was investigated and presented by law enforcement to the office it would be evaluated in a similar manner as all sexual assault cases submitted for our review.

I am limited in terms of any advice or further information I can give you concerning any actions you may contemplate regarding Mr. Burton. I do hope that you have found the general information I have provided to be somewhat helpful.

Patrick McGrath

Response #2


Based on this, I would say that it’s a dead end only as to whether you can expect further action at this point from Mr. McGrath’s office. His response struck me as reasonable and predictable because of the nature of his official duties. As a lawyer, I’m used to officials telling me that they “can’t give legal advice,” or making other statements that seem unhelpful, but I understand them to mean that they feel their duties preclude them from going further than they already have, rather than that they aren’t sympathetic or believe my situation to lack merit.

Part of the difficulty you’re having is that rape being a criminal, as opposed to civil, aspect of the law, you’re dependent on government prosecutors to decide whether to pursue it, regardless of how clear it may be that a crime has been committed. What McGrath may be trying to say is that, as a bureaucratic matter, his office doesn’t get involved until a specific complaint ,about a specific alleged crime, has been made, typically to a police officer in the first instance, who then takes the case to the DA’s office to consider prosecution, which the DA will then evaluate based on the circumstances of the case–the strength of the evidence being particularly important, since what DAs are most concerned about is whether they can convict. It doesn’t surprise me that the DA’s office would shy away from giving a legal opinion on whether what Burton does may be construed as rape in the abstract; it just isn’t what they do, and they also wouldn’t want to venture any guesses that could come back to haunt them in the absence of evidence.

What avenues might be more productive would depend on what you’re really after. If you want to know what the law of rape covers, you should probably consult a criminal defense lawyer (or a prosecuting attorney with whom you, or someone, have a friendly enough relationship that he or she would be willing to chat off the record, since you can’t hire a prosecutor). As McGrath points out, it’s going to be very fact-specific; whether it’s “rape” will depend on exactly what happened. If you’re wondering whether there are any sort of legal remedies against Burton, a tort lawyer, especially one with some background in cult suits (like the man who represented Troy) might be worth a consultation. You can’t sue someone for rape (although you can sue someone for the harm that results from having been raped), but there are a variety of civil claims that are less dependant on what McGrath refers to as “specific intent,” which is a hallmark of a criminal act. (That is, most criminal acts require a degree of intent, since in theory we punish people criminally for being intentionally “bad.” But people may be sued successfully to compensate for harm if they have been merely negligent, that is, for failing to exercise the degree of care a “reasonable person” would exercise.)
Please let me know if you have any follow-up questions, Joseph. Good luck!

Response #3

Thanks for your letter. I am toying with the idea, but it would be quite a project and not without legal risk for the newspaper. I’m sure you know the Fellowship has expert attorneys. Basing a story solely on allegations of former members might not be possible.

I would need a “hook” for a story, which could be one of a number of things:

1. prosecution by the Yuba County DA, which appears unlikely. I’m not hearing that any of Burton’s targets are under the age of 18, or that he raped anyone by physical force. Brainwashing someone or keeping them financially dependent in order to have sex with them might be immoral or unethical – but not illegal.

2. prosecution by the U.S. Attorney for:

a. fraud by a tax-exempt church? Using money paid by members for his own purposes? If it comes from members, it might not be illegal.

b. immigration law offenses (having women church members marry young European men to secure Green Cards?)

3. A lawsuit, maybe a class action lawsuit filed by many former members?

4. Financial difficulties caused by loss of members? Selling off of assets? (Something that could be documented.)

My guess is that Burton, based on advice from his attorneys, is at the edge of legality but doesn’t cross the line. But you never know. After all, he’s been doing whatever it is he does for what, 37 years? And so far there’ve been only a couple of lawsuits that were settled for cash, right?

As L. Ron Hubbard (founder of Scientology) once said, if you want to get rich in America, start your own church.

If you want to come in and talk sometime, you can call me at…

A final note: about my own letters, suffice to say they were consistent with what I have written here, and derived from mostly my own personal experience. (BTW, this is not fun for me all you FOF-ers lurking out there; it’s necessary.)

With concern for all victims of the FOF cult, regardless of whether they know they are,

Joseph G

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