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
on 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, April 25, 2007

Charles R.'s Story

Charles R.'s Story posted on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog:
Again I want to thank the Sheik for his efforts and this very useful blog for all of us members and former members of the FOF.

I am in awe of many of the posts that have been created. Ames G. is very insightful and profound, in my opinion, and I really didn’t know he had so much to share before this. Sandra C. brings a depth of emotion that is always pretty amazing, and now, additionally she brings a broad understanding of psychological issues that are very pertinent to what we are all facing. Joel I have known since 1973 and I always appreciate what he has to say. I could go on and on but maybe more of that in later posts. Hi Bruce, Cathie, Don Juan, Mark H. Dick Moron, Mifis, Inner Jewels, Wake up little Susie, and all of my anonymous friends. I’m happy you’re here and I’m happy to be here, too.

Mark H. and later Chimes have asked to hear about how some of us experienced the period of time between when we first became aware of Robert’s “little secret” and finally leaving. It’s an interesting question and probably one that I should process through therapy, but I’ll give it a try as I am.

I found out about the fact that Robert was having sex with men in the Fellowship on January 13, 1982. Carl M., the FOF lawyer, and I were talking that day about a former student who was reported to have accosted some students in Marysville and said to them that Robert was a homosexual and was seducing young men in the school to have sex with him. We both, believing that this was a lie, and a continuation of the false rumors that many former students seemed to like to spread (this wasn’t the first we had heard about it, but we thought it was just more “false personality” trying to undermine the “school”) decided to report it to Miles. At this time I was the Treasurer and CFO of the Fellowship, Chairman of the Board, and met with and saw Miles every day. Before we met with Miles, Carl spoke to another student, who was also a lawyer, and said we were considering a libel and defamation suit against the former student for spreading lies. The lawyer student told Carl, “Well, truth is an absolute defense against libel.” Carl was incredulous and asked, “What do you mean?” whereupon he was told that we better talk to Miles about it.

For reference, Robert, at this time, and for many years, had been telling students that he was celibate and that he had given up sex for his students. I took that to be a rock solid fact along the lines of “Robert said it, I believe it, and that settles it!” (Howard Carter had nothing on me!) Carl M. was likewise convinced. Many people here have expressed how they were fully dedicated to the Fellowship, and I can see they were. I was, too, as much as I could possibly muster. At this point I had been in the FOF for almost 9 years. I had served in many centers, been a director, made teaching payments, gone on salary and been selected for a key position in the school. I was very happy with my life at this point. In 1979 after the death of my mother I had refused to go to her funeral (at the great consternation of my loving family, may they be blessed for not hating me, but instead, for lovingly accepting me back when I had finally escaped the FOF) because my brother, who was a former member would be attending. I was proud internally to be able to “hold my work” in such a trying circumstance.

We went to Miles’s caravan that evening before going to dinner at the Lodge. He and his wife Susan invited us in and we were served a good cabernet, as I recall (in my mind I’m there as I type this). We recounted the day’s story and asked him what he knew. He said the allegations were true, that Robert had had affairs with a number of young men, and that he, Miles had been working for some time with talking to the young men when they needed counseling. Miles and Susan seemed relieved to be able to talk openly with Carl and me after we brought the subject up. We had all been working together for months or years, with them knowing and Carl and me not knowing, but it took our asking to finally have the subject broached.

I was personally stunned. I just couldn’t believe it. Carl and I went up to the Lincoln Lodge for dinner. At that time there was a practice of having Margaritas with dinner. I had several. The dinner happened and people talked, but I was in my head. I somehow drove home to the trailer park on Rice’s Texas Hill where I had recently moved into a room in a mobile home.

In the morning I awoke with a strong hangover and called into the Ouspensky office to say I wasn’t coming in. Carl M. lived across the driveway in his own mobile home and I went over to talk with him. I said to him that I guess it’s all over and the whole thing has been a lie. He didn’t agree. He thought we should think about it. We began rationalizing how such a thing could possibly be. I remember that he had a little music box toy that had a clown on pins that danced to the tune of “Here Come the Clowns”. We were still inebriated from the night before and we were laughing sadly while watching the clown dance. “What the hell is going on?”

Then, somehow, the day passed. And then more days.

I came to realize that there was a secret “inner circle” of people who already knew about Robert. Some had known for years. They wouldn’t tell anyone, but, if you let them know that you knew, then they would talk about it openly. I told my closest friends about it, if they didn’t know. Soon there was a larger circle of people I could talk to about it. I went to many people and talked with them – I told them I didn’t like what I’d found out, that I didn’t understand it, and that Robert had been lying to us. Almost everyone I talked with said that they didn’t understand it either, but that they valued the school and what Robert was giving us, and that “in time we would know more.” In a way we all talked each other into believing that we couldn’t understand the obvious, that there “must be” a higher understanding that we would come to later, in our work.

I developed a kind of neurosis, whereby my “work personality” redoubled efforts to be a better and better student, while my “old personality” took on the role of provocateur by seeing and voicing the rational flaws in the Fellowship. I sought out students who were willing to question the school, but only to a point. When people actually would leave, I pulled back. Like poor Hamlet, I kept trying to find the perfect proof before I could pull the trigger.

Looking at it now I would compare it to those science fiction films where the all-powerful computer or robot is disabled by tricking it into processing an unsolvable puzzle. I was trying to understand a corrupt situation using the tools provided by the corrupt situation.

This went on for many years, through numerous twists and turns -the IRS audit of the Fellowship, the Sanders case, Miles leaving, etc. etc.

I would say the turning point for me was in the early 90’s when I read all the Meher Baba books. I found a system of ideas that were even more complete than the Gurdjieff one (not that I’m following that system – just that it is a beautiful exposition. I didn’t “interpret” it through Fellowship concepts, I saw its completeness unto itself.). Somehow that freed my mind to see that the Fellowship was not the pinnacle of anything, but just another system – and not a good one, as you can see by reading this blog. Also, more of my friends were starting to question and some to leave. I finally knew it was time to go. What a relief!

From that point it was just a matter of arranging my life to make it happen, which took another year.

I don’t know if these ramblings are of much use, but that was my experience, for what it’s worth. I hope it helps someone who’s trying to solve the puzzle – just remember that you can’t solve it by using the FOF concepts. You have to step away and look back to see the truth.

Love to you all,

Charles R.
[ed. - Also see the Charles Randall Letter to Robert.]

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