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.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Robert Burton's "chief feature"

[ed. - According to Burton, we each have one or more "chief features," weaknesses with which we are born, or might have acquired in our lives. He tells us this weakness is something we will have to struggle against all our lives. In my recollection, Burton's chief feature was said to be avarice. In the following posts, former members debate Burton's chief feature. Whatever his feature(s), Burton hardly seems to struggle against it.]

"I'll Never Tell" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 28, 2008:
[Quoting] 44. wakeuplittlesuzywakeup
"Fear is behind all features.”
Yes, and also, in this case mentioned [Robert Burton], it is the chief feature.

"brucelevy" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 29, 2008:
145. Ill Never Tell [above]

I’ll have to respectfully disagree. Back in the 70’s and 80’s RB said his chief feature was dominance. I can see a lot of that, but having been around him for a substantial period, in all sorts of situations, I’d have to go with the school of thought that it is greed, with a substantial helping of ALL THE OTHERS.

I know fear intimately, and RB never appeared to me to have that as his primary filter.

"brucelevy" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 29, 2008:

145. Ill Never Tell

I’d think he’d love to have people think it was fear, as that would give him more of the aura of passive victim, or someone who has conquered his c.f and made it his strength. Both pure bull shit.

"brucelevy" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 29, 2008:

And sociopaths are not really subject to “fear” as we know it, just as they are not subject to emotions as we know them. Fear implies some kind of social consciousness and conscience, as bent as it might be. They might experience fear right before they pull the switch and fry a sociopathic murderer. Fear is not something RB needs to work on.

"dream catcher" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 29, 2008:
Spot on, Bruce!

Definition: of Greed

1 Excessive desire to acquire or possess more (especially more material wealth) than one needs or deserves

2 Reprehensible acquisitiveness; insatiable desire for wealth (personified as one of the deadly sins)
excessive desire to possess or dominate

"paulshabram" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 29, 2008:
RB would try on different CF’s [chief features]like different shirts. I don’t see the greed and he certainly never exhibited fear. I agree that acquisitions and wealth look like greediness, but I think you’ll find that none of it is in his name (and that is inconsistent with the CF of greed that I saw in others). He also uses the trapping of wealth and freely distributes it to gain power over people. I see the increasing demands for money and other things and the use of fear as feeding the power/dominance aspect. The use of fear is particularly telltale. He has no problem spending money which the people with Greed that I knew definately [sic] had.

But the point I make is that he creates an image of himself that is false, and as Bruce says, claims he has conquered his faults. This allows the “sheep” to continue following with confidence.

"brucelevy" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 29, 2008:

154. paulshabram [above]

I can see some of what you’re saying. On the other hand, I often witnessed with RB examples of grasping, fear of loss, avarice, needing more than one of something, often to the point of obsessive compulsion. He’s a sociopath…as long as the money flow churns, he has no thought for the possibility of it running out, that’s just not a possibility to a sociopathic mind. There’s no real sense of past and future in relation to their present actions.

His generosity is often an outlet for two purposes. To get rid of the things he’s tired of so he can replace them (cloths, bright shiny objects) or to dress his harem boys like Oscar Wilde on acid.

I almost think that convenient labels like c.f. get marginalized simply by trying to apply them logically to a severely broken machine, like RB. Aren’t the “work ideas” supposed to be relevant to someone with some semblance of “normalcy” It’s like saying Hitler was misunderstood as a child.

"brucelevy" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 29, 2008:

Paul, as for it not being in his name…come on, you know better than that. It doesn’t have to be in his name for him to “own” something or “control” something. He’s pulled that “not in his name” bull shit from the beginning, just like his celibacy bullshit.

"Just Another Voice Out Here" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 29, 2008:
154 paulshabram [above]

Don’t see the greed. Hmmm.

The same behavior can certainly be viewed as reflecting more than one feature, and with RB there was always plenty of evidence of several different features (dominance being pretty prevalent), but to me, there was greed everywhere I looked. RB lived like a raja in the foothills, even when most of those around him were living under tables in the Lodge or in tents. I can see him sucking the little bones of the cornish game hens he would eat for breakfast — for breakfast! — and then offer me the remnants. Shlepping around in his cashmere suits and Gucci loafers and heavy gold chains while those around him worked in the mud in t-shirts. Being chauffered in a Rolls in friggin’ Oregon House. Guzzling fine wine and sweetmeats in the ramshackle Lodge. Sitting at his faux-Louis XV (or was it XVI?) desk and caressing his Persian rugs (“look, dear, and how many knots. It is wonderful, is it not?”) in the Blake Cottage, one step above a trailer home. Come on.

And it only got worse. The cufflinks, the cameos, the paintings, the studs, the watches. Going to the most expensive restaurants in every city, while having the second-tier boys grab sandwiches. Ordering Peking Duck at the Nut Tree (“you may order from this side of the menu, dear”). If there was any opportunity to indulge his desire to surround himself in luxury he was down with it.

And, of course, the cock-sucking. We’re not talking about the What, just the How Many and How Often. And the frantic need to continually acquire all of it. Traveling here, there, everywhere to troll for boys, for jewelry, for “impressions,” for fancy restaurants, for donations. And finally charging people just to sit in the same room with him.
Sure, I can see several features in this–I’ve always felt he’s a living caricature of the Seven Deadly Sins, or at least five or six of ‘em. But if he isn’t greedy, I don’t know who is.

"Draco" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 29, 2008:
163, Laura, that’s a good point about chief features. In G & O chief feature was something particular to oneself which one could identify sometimes with the help of a teacher. It wasn’t just one of a list of labels to choose from. Similarly, in G & O a photograph was a way of catching *oneself* and observing as much of oneself in the moment as possible. In the Fellowship it became a way if exerting social pressure.

Robert has to feel right and feel that he’s “winning” all the time. Students were receiving vouchers if they spent time bidding on eBay at the last minute to win items for him. One of the most absurd of his projects involved a small chain of steak restaurants. They were offering a free meal for anyone who ate at each of their branches. Robert decided that he wanted this, so his journeys were planned around the cities where this steak restaurant had an outlet. After a while he only had one restaurant to visit but it wasn’t in a city that he wanted to visit and his indulgences were leading him elsewhere. So he flew two of his entourage out to the last restaurant just so that they could get the coupon for a free meal. How absolutely pointless!

"dream catcher" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 29, 2008:
I have heard stories about students playing tennis with RB which would start out as a joyful sporty event and then turned nightmarish if the person actual won! RB would become very negative.

The next time that person payed she gave up the sportive approach and made sure RB won. When I heard those stories I brushed them aside.

Only now do I realize how insane such behavior is.

"paulshabram" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 29, 2008:

I never saw anything like that, but RB was too fat to play tennis. I heard he had played with some people early in the FOF. I did witness plenty of “negativity” for which he would accept the ‘photograph’ including banging his fist on his car etc.

On “crystallization” eve he was downright morose, very depressed. The next day, after the lame “thunder clap” story, which has changed somewhat over the years, it seemed like he was just going through the motions. I got the impression he really thought something was going to happen and was very disappointed.

"Just Another Voice Out Here" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 29, 2008:

172 dream catcher [above]
173 paulshabram [above]

In private, RB often displayed the emotional maturity of a child. This was particularly evident when he didn’t get what he wanted. Not giving him sex on demand would result in petulant sulking at best. Since another thing he wanted was to always be the focus of attention, or at least the acknowledged Master, any behavior that might distract attention from him would quickly be photographed.

In public he did a great job of appearing kindly, but we didn’t know him before the Fellowship–I suspect his outward manner was never much different. Also, I suspect there are more than a few people who can act nice in public when they have their very own kingdom, populated by worshipful servants that rush to satisfy their every whim. He didn’t get his corns stepped on all that often, but when he did, he was not very impressive.

As for “crystallization,” I’d like to know whether any has ever heard or read any credible account of anyone else having had a similar experience. I’ve read more than my share of accounts of “enlightenment experiences,” and despite their variety, I think RB’s story was a complete fabrication.

"paulshabram" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Disuccion blog, May 29, 2008:

174 J.A.V.O.H [above]

I was talking about RB’s private behavior.

RB was manipulative, persistent but patient with me in trying to get me to have sex with him. He finally gave up saying something like “some people’s instinctive center won’t allow certain things” to which I replied “No, it won’t”, but I was thinking “neither will any other of my centers.” He knew he wouldn’t get anywhere with me. He never attempted to punish me nor did he pitch a fit for my non-compliance.

At the time he was implying to the membership that he was heterosexual and was celibate. But he had confirmed what other older (female) members had warned me about… he was homosexual and “he likes boys you know”.

I have never been ‘homophobic’, that is other peoples sexual preference do not matter to me, but that tolerance was occasional misunderstood. I thought this was just another case of that. The lie, however, indicated problems with Robert being conscious and I concentrated on dealing with that conundrum for a couple of years. The “final straw” for me was that after making such a big deal out of “casting out a soul” (making somebody leave the FOF) for only the worst “criminal” activity, Robert kicked a male student out for no other reason other than being gay. He seem to regard gay relationships as criminal. Taking together all I had seen and experienced along with this episode, there simply was no way that RB was the real thing. I had verified. So I left (it felt like escaping). I guess I was lucky to leave with mostly good memories.

I realize now that RB was probably getting results with other young heterosexual males (I don’t think he liked gay men, but maybe that changed). It is clear that his behavior has degraded and degraded. Once you recognize a person as sociopathic, it’s hard to have any compassion for that individual. I am utterly mortified by what I’ve read in this blog.

I personally witnessed critical moments when the FOF could have gone the way of Jonestown or Waco. I was there when a member came to the Blake Cottage suggesting that he do violence on somebody troublesome. Robert said no as part of the non-violence stance, but nobody should underestimate the potential. It’s a very dangerous situation. With complete moral corruption coupled with the “everybody will die but us” doomsday belief, that danger increases.

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