Introduction


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.")

But 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.

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 Internet Archive, the long-running Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the (former) Fellowship of Friends wikispace project, the (ill-fated 2007) Fellowship of Friends Wikipedia page, 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, March 31, 2011

Cognitive Dissonance in the Fellowship of Friends

"qwertyuiop" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 31, 2011:
Cognitive dissonance explains a lot.

The Fellowship of Friends isn’t “all bad”. What we learned with the so-called fourth way was not “all bad.” Our experiences with Robert Burton were not “all bad.” Just as many abusive relationships are not “all bad.” Something was learned, maybe similar to the way a prisoner can learn something in the state pen, or a beaten wife or abused husband can learn something and move on. They learn, for one, that hugs and affection were not the problem in the abusive relationship — and they finally see that they can hug again, and be affectionate again in a new and loving, healthy relationship. They no longer associate the positive, beautiful aspects of marriage to the abuse and pain of the old.

There’s something relevant in the way Burton keeps trying out different names for his cult. He knows that certain words resonate with people and will draw them in. Whether they studied the fourth way or not, a lot of people sense that “being present” and “being here now” are ideas that have power in them (“the power of now”). The idea of paying attention to your life and not going through the motions — it makes sense. We somehow know it to be true.

Where, however, did we start believing that this was unattainable out “here”? Was it simply the fear of hell? Was it that we just wouldn’t have anyone to tell us that we were ok?

(Forgetting somehow that we have that capacity — to know we are “ok” — within ourselves?)

Classical music, art, the study of history, literature, philosophy, pondering the meaning of life, making olive oil, building amphitheaters and chateaus and wineries… What can be wrong in that?

Nothing at all… until you add everything else that comes with it, and until one lives one’s life “being present” only to what is comfortable to be present to, getting by on the cognitive dissonance… and ironically, casually talking about the idea of “buffering” on an almost daily basis without a clue how we ourselves are swimming in it.

"qwertyuiop" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 2, 2011:
[Quoting Panorea:]
“He has worked and still works with people who had been in a cult but the Fellowship seems to be quite refined in its methods of deceit. Robert is a charismatic charlatan and there are many people who cannot protect their boundaries and are after an authority to tell them what to do.”
No, there’s no magic in it, and at all, and seeing that may be the first step in snapping out of the trance.

There’s no refinement, and there’s no charisma — at least there’s no charisma that has a wide appeal. Note how Burton always would explain away the lack of a wide appeal by saying it’s because his “teaching” doesn’t flatter people, and that “life” is asleep, so of course they don’t follow him, and so forth.

There’s nothing special about it at all, nothing magical, nothing “alluring”. If we feel that way about it, we’re still trying to shake ourselves loose from that trance.

His approach just resonated with us, that’s all. Most people would listen to Burton and/or read his comments, and simply roll their eyes or laugh, or they would immediately see the deception and bullshit in it. Unlike us, they could see it from a mile away. So they didn’t join. THEY JUST KNEW AND UNDERSTOOD THAT IT WAS A CULT.
Part of the key to his deception is that he believes some of what he tells people. Or he is able to shift his thoughts into believing it. This is a sales technique. First, you find an inner attitude where you believe in the product, and then SELLING the product is a whole lot easier — even if it’s an absurdly useless, worthless, and dangerous product.

"qwertyuiop" continued:


No, there’s no magic in it at all, and seeing that may be the first step in snapping out of the trance.

Monday, March 7, 2011

"Marriages of convenience" and the conflicted role of a Fellowship tax collector

[ed. - The following comments refer to Frances Thomson, a Fellowship member since 1973, who recently, as Robert Burton would say, "completed her role." For decades, Thomson was responsible for coaxing "right valuation" from those who may have fallen behind on "donations" and reportedly, as a nurse, also helped enforce Robert Burton's demand (circa 1980) that pregnancies be terminated. Thomson was also apparently involved in a Fellowship "marriage of convenience" with Brian Carolan, a man 43 years her junior. Such marriages might be for the purpose of helping an immigrant acquire a green card, a common arrangement in the Fellowship.]

Frances (Samantha) Thomson and John Graham were among
the Fellowship's earliest members.

"Opus111" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 1, 2011:
Frances Thomson
11/23/1926 – 2/27/2011
RIP

"X-ray" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 3, 2011:
Opus111 [above]

God bless her soul, but who got the goodies? Did Br..n Ca....en [Brian Carolan] made that to the end?

"X-ray" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 3, 2011:
104. surelyujest

Are you saying that was love? He was about 40 years younger than her and as I remember him, he always been fof lunatic, a regular wine cellar guest and one in front of whom you had to choose your words when talk about fof and Burton.

"audit" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 4, 2011:
John and Frances are such distant memories, and I interacted with them so infrequently, that I barely know whether I could ever see them as a friend. We often pretended friendship in the fof, based solely on our monthly signature on a Bank of America check, combined with some fairly big numbers. I think of them fondly, but not entirely. Not when I remember that they, too, were in denial and contributed to a lot of suffering — whether they knew this or not. I think they probably did know this, and their consciences struggled with it. I’d like to believe that about them anyway.

"X-ray" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 4, 2011:
In the light of all what have come out in the recent years, those who still have choose to stay in the cult, have knowingly continued their support and have to be held responsible for partnering in crimes committed by Burton and the FOF.

"silentpurr" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 4, 2011:
Crime? I don’t think Fellowship students see their life-style as crime. They, like all “good” students, are emotionally and financially invested in believing that Robert Burton is ABOVE crime.

"William" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 5, 2011:
I’ve been lurking again lately, and wanted to pipe in on the recent, rather acrimonious (but nevertheless profitable) discussion about Frances T. I, too, have noticed a tendency to sentimentalize our former “friends.”

To sentimentalize Frances, and pretend that now she is in Kissing Kindness Land, is to downplay the real evils of the FOF.

I remember the person in question putting the screws on when FOFers were behind in their so-called “teaching payments.” I remember her fiercely defending the status quo and harshly judgmental towards former members.

She must have known the truth. We’re responsible for not only what we know, but what we turn our heads from. And now it’s too late for her to correct course. (Note to FOF lurkers: It’s not too late for you, however! Crawling out on your knees at 80 years old and taking up a begging bowl would be more honorable than where you are now! Remember that oft-quoted saying: Truth above friendship! It applies to you!)

Point is, the “good” people in the FOF were even better people when they walked in through the front doors. The place has a deteriorating effect on character. And there is much more to being a good person than a smile, a pleasant dining experience, or an occasional kindness – there is quietly, firmly witnessing to the truth when everyone is shouting you down.

This deterioration doesn’t occur “in the moment,” it happens over time (and it happened to me, too). Hence, the friend you remember from 20 years ago is quite a different creature now. When I saw that clearly and indisputably, I left.

As for the law, I’m sure the appropriate agencies have a lot of hearsay stories, opinions, and allegations – but what they need are not petitions or picketing or Sad Sack stories about our own poor choices, but clear, firsthand accounts of illegal activities in the recent past.

Finally, a suggestion for this blog: We are here for a common purpose, though our lives may have gone in very different directions. We all had some sort of experience in the FOF, and we digested it according to our best wits. I bailed last time when I was under increasing pressure to conform to the then-current bloggers’ description of my experience, which didn’t match with my own understanding. It was further implied that if I were smarter, more observant, whatever, that my opinions would conform to their own. (Akin to: if my being were higher, I would understand the Teacher or Center Directors.)

Life is too short to argue. It behooves us all to respect the experiences, choices, and observations of others – whether people left the FOF and became card-carrying atheists or picked up the latest New Age nonsense.

After the FOF, almost anything would be a spiritual step up.

"Agent 45" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 7, 2011:
There is no rest or emancipation from suffering for the wicked. Dear Frances also had a role as the “fetus problem solver”, as she would deliver the message from that chickenshit-on-high: “Abort the little bastard so that you can better give me all the attention & money.”

"nigel" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 7, 2011:
About F.T. ...Towards the end of my ability to keep up with ‘teaching payments, I called F.T. and told her my position. Her answer came in two halves:- “This seems to be the story of your life, Nigel” then the usual crap to propel a student to eke out all their available resources in order to keep on paying... “If you value a school, you will pay for it.” The story of my life in the Fellowship was, in actual fact, one of financial hardship from ‘day one’ and the letter I wrote back to Fr—s included the line that “I did value school work”. I actually meant that I valued work on Essence. My life work was then precious metal work and that role has been recovered now as a teacher of the same to adults. I just wonder how many computer programmers, head-hunters, pseudo-psychiatrists and pseudo-lawyers (Goldman, are you reading this?) still play key roles in financing and enabling the Fellowship?

"silentpurr" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 7, 2011:
Frances lived her life, or was condemned to live her life with or without a conscience. She played her part, and made her choices… Did she struggle with second thoughts, regrets, misgivings? We don’t know. But, she did stay til the end and was probably lauded as some sort of ‘tenacious warrior crone’ by RB and his believers. But for Frances, like the others, it’s probably the need comfort and the fear of loneliness that keeps them hanging on. And a touch of insanity.

"veramente" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 8, 2011:
Frances T., at one point she became my nightmare as well because of the teaching payments I could not afford due to catastrophic circumstances. Robert Burton did not seem to have taught her even the most basic lesson in compassion. She seemed a blind soldier. It’s sad she sold her soul and her life to a man who is really worth nothing. Despite all, I hope she had moments and even days that were truly her own, beyond Robert’s sickness.

"Josiane" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 9, 2011:
Regarding F. T., it seems fair that I should tell this blog my story. When my husband and I lived in Europe, we thought we did not have to pay the Spring and Fall donations, which amounted to $750 each per person, per season. (Still does.) So we didn't pay it for all the years we lived there. F.T. eventually found out and after we talked about it with her she realized we could never catch up with the payments and she said: I will cancel your back payments but you will need to start paying from now on. So she did have some authority in these matters, and we appreciated the break she gave us. She wasn't a monster, just someone caught in something ugly. It's not always easy to choose.

"Just the Facts Ma'am" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 9, 2011:
Josiane’s experience clearly illustrates that there was considerable discretion in the hands of FT – could be viewed as (in Fellowship of Friends circumstances): life or death over being able to continue in the school, or not. (Tell us about it, Nige!) Often others were contributing to the decision process, like: RB, GH [Robert Burton, Girard Haven], center directors, the current FoF president, center bookkeepers, etc. One thing was certain, living and being on the roster in Oregon House provided an enormous number of excuses for getting out of making teaching payments in the form of cash/money. Making regular donations of precious bodily fluids to RB was at the top of the list.

"dick moron" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 11, 2011:
Frances Thomson was, a tough old broad. I knew her well and considered her a dear friend, from 1976 until I split the FOF in ’96. Like many others of her generation, she was sized-up, and assigned a “role” by Burton to further his own selfish, pathetic aims. She would have made a good hit-man. I think she cared about people, but was diverted by loyalty and willingness to follow orders that you would expect from a Scotts woman raised during the WWII years of unquestioning loyalty to a wooden English King. She partied hard and found some joy in life, I think. I am only sorry that she did not find any way out— but old age can creep up on you and anchor you to your habitual ways and you won’t have the strength or will to break free. RIP Frances.

"Just the Facts Ma'am" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog,  March 7, 2011:
The F.T./B.C.  arrangement – there is high plausibility that this was a December-May type (if you know what I mean and can believe it (like you can believe that on R.B.’s [Robert Burton's] birthday, oral sex is performed by R.B. on the same number of men (Fellowship of Friends members) as there are years in his life – sad but true.)) is what could be called an ‘arranged marriage,’ or ‘marriage-of-convenience,’ where something other than a typical ‘love relationship’ is the object of the entanglement. This is one of those ‘best kept secret’ of Fellowship of Friends; mostly expected to go to the grave. These arrangements come from R.B. directly, but no way to document, as evidence, that I know about. I know of some people that refused to do it.
What may be at work in this sort of thing is various dynamics, such as (but not necessarily limited to): passage to U.S. and/or green card and/or citizenship possibilities, indentured servitude with a minimum of a guaranteed position on salary for life (slave labor, if you submit), sex slave with a minimum of a guaranteed position in the mouth of R.B. for life, obedience to the master, eternal gratitude, a debt that never can be repaid, lifetime loyalty, perpetual invitation to the ‘Cellar Dinners,’ on-call ‘duty’ at other times, any of your reasonable needs satisfied – just by asking big daddy for help, entourage world travel – whenever, various other perks and responsibilities. Sorry to spill the beans, B.C.
Want to own a property and a home? Big daddy can arrange to get you one: provide money for down payment, co-sign on title and mortgage, adequate salary position from Fellowship of Friends (FoF), Renaissance Vineyard and Winery, or other FoF controlled or influenced entity so as to afford mortgage payments. What’s the catch? See above position requirements.
At least, that’s the way it was.
F.T., in my experience, was one of the most miserable people I knew in FoF. This could have been the chemistry of types, but also there could have been reasons. F.T., when I had some interactions, was responsible for the center donations for people living in Oregon House. That was about 700 members, or so, then. The enforcement of FoF policy was delegated to her so that she was the ‘bad news bearer,’ so that R.B. was spared being ‘the heavy hand of fate’ much of the time. Power must have its rigid enforcer as she was, often in a stern and/or callous martial manner. Someone had to do it, right?
Others may have had different experiences.
F.T., may you rest in peace.

"X-ray" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 7, 2011
Just the Facts Ma’am [above]

‘The F.T./B.C. arrangement’ Wow! I didn’t know about this ‘arrangement’ until now, but I was always curious seeing them together and it’s never felt right to me. And as far as I know, F.T was an insider and knew all and everything what was going on in the cult.