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.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

James Mclemore's Story

"James Mclemore" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, October 7, 2007:
Just found this blog. Wow! Names and stories bring back lots of memories. Joined in 1974 in Santa Barbara. Joel and Carol were the leaders. Met Charles R there also. Moved to the ranch soon after and then sent to Detroit in 1976 to help to open a center there. Never was a fan of Robert. Always had a bit of suspicion about him, and his prophecies and his reading of meanings about his greatness into things. Of course I did not share any of this, as I assumed it was my own stuff to work on and did not want to bring negative ideas to anyone else’s work. Never felt part of the ‘inner circle’. Not sorry for the time I spent in the school. It was the ideas I was already attracted to initially, and I would say that I met many of the most wonderful people I had ever met in my life. I feel like I learned a lot from Joel and Miles and so many, many others, and I thank them all for that. Bruce and Spencer I remember from my time at the ranch, though they may not remember me. I stayed in the background-(non-existence?) – just a worker bee. Heard rumor of R’s sexual activity not long before leaving, and verified very soon after with another ex-student who had been one of R’s entourage for a short time. I assumed wrongly that more people knew what was going on. My own reasons for leaving, which I had decided upon before even hearing of R’s sexual activities, were partly financial, but mostly I felt strongly that there was just something wrong. I could not define it to myself well at the time, but something inside just knew. Joel – it is so good to know you are still out there somewhere, you were a very positive influence on my life. Bruce – I appreciate your wit and quickness of mind- thanks. And Spencer, I remember you from when you played your role at the lodge, and appreciate the work you are now doing and the ideas you have shared; however you did not wash all the dishes. I used to wash the china and glassware from R’s dinners 3-4 nights a week. Anyway the blog brings so many memories and a lot wondering about so many lovely people. The blog makes me wonder once again whether R conned everyone from the beginning or did he just get lost and forget that he had stuff he not worked out yet, and then just could not let the money and the opportunities to feed his desires go. He was so dishonest with all of us. But I cannot help but think of G’s idea that there is no such thing as conscious evil. Robert has harmed people and I hope it comes to an end, but do not assign to him more power than a sleeping being could possibly have. Thanks for being there.

"James Mclemore continued on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, October 8, 2007:
Waiting for my first submission to be o.k.’d by the moderator, and already feel the need to add to it. When I wrote it I had only read a smattering of comments by a variety of people, most of which were speaking about the ‘system’ and other paths and schools of thought. I saw some familiar names and was excited for some reason by the idea of those people of long ago speaking about what was a powerful part of my life, and obviously their’s as well. As I went back and read more and more entries and began to see and feel a little of the pain that this obviously damaged man has caused, I felt almost guilty by what I had written. While it is true that because of the friendships I formed and the rather intense learning about myself that I experienced, that I do not personally regret the time I spent there, I will have to say that I am sorry that I contributed to this man in any way, given the level of pain that he created in some of these innocent people’s lives. I guess I have to feel lucky that I was not a target for him, and that I stayed in the background, and had very few meetings or personal moments with him. As I said in my first comment, I always had reservations about him, but I was able to lay them aside for what I felt like I was learning and because of other students I had come to trust and in my own way to love. I remember when I was in Detroit and the initial body of students who had been sent there were being called back to California, I had requested to stay there longer. Linda K had said she would have to ask R and then get back to me. When she called back she said that R thought it better that I come back to the ranch. I knew in my heart that he could not have cared less about whether I was in Detroit or in California, and that his decision was not based on his caring about my evolution. Still I tried to be a ‘good student’ and do as I was told. When I got back to Calif and the ranch I could sense that things were moving ever more in a direction that I found difficult to follow. Things had become more strict in ways that seemed like something more than just trying to create friction and work for the students. More and more money was wanted. There appeared to be less and less compassion evident, from some of those in power. It was also then (1978) that I heard the first rumors of R’s little games with some of his chosen male students. I did not know, of course, that these were not activities between assenting adults. I assumed that if it was going on that it was what these students had wanted also. I still certainly thought it odd, but felt in no position to judge. I think one of the reasons I left the school was prompted in part by something R had said once. I will have to paraphrase,but it was along the lines of, “If someone should be fortunate enough to meet a conscious school and then leave it, it would be better if he had never been born.” I remember cringing when I heard that and knew right then that there was the leverage of fear being used on people. When I think of this man leveraging young men into sexual acts they did not wish to engage in, by holding the possibility of spiritual progress in front of them, I have to think that very serious crimes were committed.

Anyway I am still glad to hear the names I recognize, and I wonder about so many other gentle souls that I met there. I just hope that the healing that is needed by those who were hurt, is coming to them. If I have any advice to offer it would be to try and let go. There is nothing gained by trying to analyze darkness. Darkness will never lead to any light, darkness is the absence of light. Nothing sane can come from trying to understand insanity. Insanity, by its very nature, makes no sense. My best wishes to all of you.

And more from James Mclemore, October 8, 2007:
There seem to be some people who are in FOF and are struggling with the decision to possibly leave, and there are the posts where former members desribe their anguish when they finally left. It is a difficult time. I knew I was leaving and had decided to leave in a manner other than just disappearing. I was living in SF at the time and going to the weekly meetings that were led by Stella and another student whose name I no longer remember. They would take personal questions and problems during the intermission of the meeting and I waited in line to speak with them. I remember telling them that I was leaving the school, and the male went on and on about the mistake I was making and how my possible evolution was now reduced to almost nothing. He pleaded with me to reconsider my decision, telling me how much the financial penalty for re-instatement was at that time, but that it might change and could become impossible for me to re-join. Stella had not said a word. Finally she interrupted her co-leader and told him that she was pretty sure I had not come here to be talked out of leaving, but to say good-bye. I nodded to her and she took my hand and wished me the best of luck on my journey. The admiration I already had for her grew considerably in that moment.

It was a difficult time. For five years I had immersed myself in the school and essentially had no friends outside of it. I felt very alone for quite some time, and had dreams of the school nightly for many, many months. In my mind there was the thought of at least the possibility that perhaps I had made a very large mistake. I had trusted something deeper than my thinking processes about leaving, and I had to return again and again to that part of myself. There is no ‘only game in town’, and any group or church that tries to sell you that idea is suffering from a delusion. Everything you need is already within you. We are a part of the Mind of God, and we have never been anywhere else. Our problem seems to be that we have imagined that we are something separate from that.

"James Mclemore" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, October 14, 2007:
623 – Vinnie [post number and blogger]

This will be my last post to you.

Let me give you a little history first if you don’t mind. It may help to know a bit of who I am and thus where I am coming from. First of all I am new here on this blog, just finding it less than a week ago. I am now 61 years old and it has been almost 30 years since being in the fof. I was in the school from 1974 to 1979 and knew nothing really of any of Robert’s activities that you have read about here before I left. Perhaps you already knew of some of it before you came here. I will have to say that I did have a sort of ‘gut’ mistrust for the man, but that could just have been accidental, and not due to any particular acuteness to my perceptions. I worked very hard in the school and essentially turned over my whole life over to it. I was sent to help open a new center when the school was first branching out. I had studied Gurdjieff and Ouspensky for a few years before meeting the school. While in the fof I did experience altered and higher states a number of times. There are however many, many ways and places to experience higher and altered states of consciousness. I had experienced them before meeting the fof and they were a large part of what led to my search for higher ideas and a school. I left because of a simple feeling that something was missing in the fof. I could not at the time define it to myself, but it was so persistent of a feeling inside that I could not dismiss it. The money and the way it was spent was certainly a part of it, but there was something deeper that just told me I needed to leave, that something essential was missing, or that something was wrong. I was not even completely sure at the time that I was correct. It was a very scary time for me when I left.

Now. There are only a couple of posters here that I remember from my time in the school and I am not in personal contact with any of them. Most of them spent much more time in the school than myself, and most of them know much more about what they are speaking of than me. There is some guessing going on that you may not even be a real person, but I am writing this as if you are. Some of the responses to your own posts have been a bit caustic to say the least, some have not been that way at all. People here have responded to you in a variety of ways. I cannot speak for any of them, but I can tell you just from the short time I have been here, that if they were sure you were a real person, while their approaches may not change much, what they really are after, I am pretty sure, is for no one else to experience the deception that they have experienced. If you have been reading the posts you may have noticed that several people were hoping you were not real, because they were hoping that is was not a real person that was that deceived. Do you understand what would be behind that sort of statement? It is caring for another human being. I personally did not realize just how badly I was deceived, and how sick that R truly is, and the extent of the lies that were perpetuated, until I came here. It has made me go back and re-live and re-think many things about myself and my time in fof. If you could just stand back a few feet and try to look at your own situation without any preconceived ideas either of your own or the schools or even from the people on this blog, and just try to look at it in the most simple terms possible, I think you might begin to see your situation differently and see a bit differently what the people here are doing, and what they are trying to have you look at.
If you are truly a young person searching for the sacred, I earnestly wish you the best. If you stay in the fof, I feel quite sure you are making a mistake. Almost all the other posters here made that same mistake, including me. I believe that all the people here, no matter how they may seem to you or to me, just sincerely wish that no one else becomes prey to Robert Burton.

"James Mclemore" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, September 5, 2009:
One of these days we should dedicate a page to Stella Wirk. To my knowledge she was the very first person to start a website to make public the fact that the Fellowship of Friends is a cult, and to assist people who were leaving. I was already long gone by the time I had a computer and found her site, but I had a few fond memories of her, and one that was very special…………………

Thirty years ago when the scale finally tipped after months of agonizing, and I realized I was going to leave; I was in an extremely vulnerable state. I felt pretty hopeless, and yet I just knew I had to get out of the fof if I was going to keep my balance. All of my life I had struggled with fear and with what could be called a ‘poor self image’. The fof I suspected, was not only not helping, but was making worse any problems I had. Although parts of me were still quite afraid that I was making an error of gigantic proportion, I just knew in my heart that Robert Burton cared nothing about me or my possible healing or awakening, or whatever the hell I thought I was looking for. I don’t know how I knew this, I just did. I just did not trust him. (At this time I knew nothing of the goings on in the Blake Cottage).
Anyway, my decision made, I saved just enough money to rent an apartment in Daly City, and moved out of the Tenth Ave, SF student house. I had a few people in the fof I felt very close to, but I told no one of my plans as I was unsure enough of what I was doing, and still under the sway of enough ‘cult think’ that I did not wish anyone else to ‘lose their work’ or ‘lose the school’ on my account. I had only my clothes, my car, and a sleeping bag.
I somehow summoned the courage and decided I did not wish to just disappear, but for myself I wanted to end this portion of my life by announcing my leaving. I went to a meeting in SF that Stella and some male student (I think it was E. Ha–is, were presiding over. As was the custom, they would speak with and counsel individuals during the mid-meeting recess. I waited in line, and was photographed once for ‘looking like my only friend had just died’, and then finally got to sit down with Stella and the other leader. I told them I was leaving and the male immediately began a long sermon, telling me I was making the biggest mistake of my life and that my possibilities for awakening would end. He continued in this fashion with the entire personal doomsday spiel. Stella just sat and listened for a while and then interrupted him. She looked at me and then him and told him that she did not think I had come there to be talked out of anything, but that I had come to say good-bye, and asked me if that was correct. I nodded my head. To the other leader’s obvious dismay, she took my hand, looked me in the eyes, and sincerely wished me well. We both stood and she gave me a hug. I had always admired her and at that moment I loved her. I remember walking outside and looking up at the night sky, and just saying to myself, “WOW!!” I felt lost but free, and hoped like hell it was the right sort of feeling free. It was very difficult at first, but I went on with my life, and learned not to look back. I re-entered life and definitely ‘verified’ what I had already long suspected, and what was for me one of the chief reasons I did not trust Robert Burton. He had no compassion for what he referred to as the ‘life’ people who inhabit this planet. He stated this bluntly in a number of ways, and I always cringed a bit somewhere inside when other students mimicked that coldness. I always knew there was something very wrong about that idea, but of course had temporarily shelved those feelings with the rest of my intuition and conscience. (I now realize he had/has no compassion for anyone.) Life is, of course, full of wonderful people. I have met a number of them. A few years later, I began a relationship and had a child, and from the experience of fatherhood learned more about myself in the first few years of my daughter’s life than I could have learned from a lifetime in the fof.
I still told myself and others that it had been a useful experience, and when I read a newspaper article about the fof where the word ‘cult’ was used, I thought it was an exaggeration, as I felt sure that I could not have possibly been in a cult. Even had I known there was still a wound from being in the fof, I would have thought it had closed and healed, but evidently not completely. I had come across Stella’s site, and after that read a newspaper article from online about the 1994? exodus, but I still wondered a bit. I think somewhere deep inside there must have still been the open question of being sure it was the right sort of ‘feeling free’ that night I left. I found this blog almost 30 years later and my question was answered.
Thanks to you all and to the Sheik (and Steve), and once again a thank you to the beautiful spirit of Stella Wirk.

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