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.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A former believer takes on the leader

Robert Earl Burton (R. E. Burton), Fellowship of Friends cult leader at Apollo in Oregon House, CA
Robert Earl Burton at Apollo in Oregon House, CA

By Ryan McCarthy

August 24, 2008 12:05:00 AM

Critics call the Fellowship of Friends a cult; members say it's a school of spiritual development

It's not that the emperor wears no clothes at the 1,171-acre property in the Sierra foothills with a winery, cemetery and main building meant to resemble a French castle, says Elena Haven.

The old folk tale speaks of adults afraid to say their ruler is naked. But Haven, a former member of the Yuba County-based Fellowship of Friends, said silence surrounded the colorful clothes — the salmon pink silk suit, shiny blue shoes or bright yellow pants — leader Robert Earl Burton, 69, sometimes wore.

"It's the picture of the whole phenomena," Haven, 49, said of the religious group that she calls a cult and that she left in 2007 after 17 years as a member.

That Fellowship members don't comment about Burton's clothing during gatherings at the group's headquarters in the foothills community of Oregon House is a symbol of more serious problems, Haven said.

The 6-foot, 4-inch silver-haired Burton, a one-time elementary school teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area, is the unchallenged ruler of the Fellowship and doesn't face questions, she said.

Not about his living like a king, not about a lifestyle said to rival a ruler in the last days of the Roman empire, not about the nuclear Armageddon that Burton proclaimed would happen in 2006, not about whether the Fellowship is following the "Fourth Way" system of spiritual development taught by two 20th-century Russian philosophers and mystics, Haven said.

"If you challenge him you have to leave the cult," she said. "No one can understand how crazy this can get."

A fresco-style ceiling painting that includes a depiction of a man with an erection is an example of the excesses of the Fellowship, Haven said.

Last month Haven did something other former members said no one had attempted since the Fellowship established its Sierra foothills site in 1971.

The 5-foot, 3-inch dark-haired Haven began picketing in July at the Rices Crossing Road entrance to the Fellowship property 29 miles outside of Marysville. Most members live in a bubble, unaware of what takes place in the Fellowship's inner circle, Haven said. Her protests came as the group said members from around the world — the Fellowship has centers for students in many countries — were gathering.

"How many more boys, Dear?" read one of her signs, a reference to what Haven said are the half-dozen young men constantly in Burton's company and known within the Fellowship as his boys. "Dear" is the term Burton uses to address members.

Read more at the Appeal-Democrat.

[ed. - Perry Bulwer also posted this article on his Religion and Child Abuse News blog, eliciting some interesting responses, including the following four comments:]

"Anonymous" wrote on the Religion and Child Abuse website, February 10, 2012:
I am a 40 year old woman. I was in the Fellowship for 4 years, and then left about 10 years ago. My father was allready [sic] a member of the FF for 7 years when i joined.

3 years after i joined, my father killed himself.....

I can not stress enough how what is written in this article is accurate-

My experience of the FF was that it IS a cult, that you Are going through a very sophisticated and manipulative brain washing.

Most people coming to the cult are have weaknesses that led them to search for answers. The group gently and shrewdly plays on those weaknesses and gradually creates a state of dependence in the member.

Robert "recommends" that if someone leaves it is better to cut ties with them...Robert "recommends" that you be more and more involved in the group...Robert "Recommends" not to expect happiness, and that happiness has nothing to do with self development.

I see all these recommendations (and many more) at [sic] a sophisticated way of developing co dependency.

When i was there, i kept hearing stories about young guys that turned gay after Robert slept with them, or just guys that Robert slept with. This, and the constant demand to contribute more and more money (which had to do with the ruin of my family and my father), led me eventually to my leaving.

I can say allot more, but English is not my native tong [sic].

I'll just tell you this: there are allot of Narcissistic bustards [sic] out there that want to be your spiritual teacher.

Robert Burton is one of them, For sure.

"Anonymous" wrote on the Religion and Child Abuse website, December 23, 2012:
If one refers back to P.D. Ouspensky in "the Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution" he clearly states that ANY sexual deviation or perversion immediately renders the Great Work impossible. Ouspensky himself parted company from Gurdjieff for reasons he did not elucidate. I strongly support Elena Haven's discontent over her experience in Burton's cult. During the 8 years that I was a member, I never knew Robert Burton was a homosexual. I did spend time with him and as an attractive female was grateful he did not make sexual advance as other teachers had. When I found out he was gay, it was a shocking wake up call. What I thought was gentlemanly behaviour was simply homosexuality! In truth it is impossible to closely and consistently observe Robert in REALITY as he poses as a subdued presence. Truthfully he distances himself from most Students. Having been in the Arts and living in Europe for many years, I had many gay men friends. But Robert was not transparent about his homosexuality and this is suspicious and deceitful. Only after leaving the fellowship, did I learn of the serious sexual crimes Robert committed against so many young male students. I felt a total sense of betrayal and loss. I realized that during the 8 years I was in the fellowship, I was totally deceived and betrayed by Robert. Again, P.D. Ouspensky was precise and clear about sexual perversion rendering the Great Work impossible. Young men were raped while all of us paid huge sums of money for Robert's facade and his horrific sexual perversions. We "footed the bill" for Robert's lavish pretentious lifestyle; his facade of nobility and dignity a complete sham for his true perversions! He has no ethics nor morality. When one learns the hard truth of his outrageous betrayal and deceit it destroys trust forever. Since leaving the fellowship, I have sought more sincere authentic Spiritual studies in Buddhism and Taoism, where I had originally developed my Magnetic Center. Be aware that though the Fourth Way is a wonderful System, there has an inherent flaw: it discourages students from questioning the teacher. Herein is Robert's manipulation. But Ouspensky also emphasizes to VERIFY EVERYTHING. Do not accept "appearances" as Truth. The fellowship is based on extreme perverted lust and greed in excess. I wish everyone to heal from the masquerade of deceit and betrayal. Do not trust the fellowship of friends: they are not friendly nor do they have your best interests in mind. Run as fast as you can from this cult of deceit.

"Anonymous" wrote on the Religion and Child Abuse website, September 16, 2013:
While I do not want to minimize the trauma of being coerced into unwanted sexual situations, an adult young heterosexual man who submits to sex acts with an older homosexual for gifts of travel, Armani suits, jewelry, restaurant meals and other perks is not being raped. He is prostituting himself. I was associated with the FoF from pre-teen to late teenage years, when I was put out on the street in a big city with literally only the clothes on my back. So I know about survival sex. It was raining, and the smiling student who told me I was out would not even give me my coat, which was hanging in the closet behind him. Robert's entourage knows what's up. Everybody does. But they don't. Everybody wants to be innocent, but nobody is.

"Anonymous" wrote on the Religion and Child Abuse website, July 30, 2014:
Unfortunately by ascribing the actions of the young cult members to nothing more than cunning cupidity, you are in denial about the victimization they have suffered. Whether or not they were raped--and many witnesses are coming forward attesting to the rape of minors--they have suffered severe spiritual abuse by a trusted authority figure that they probably felt it was impossible to say no to, first because nobody else in the community would believe them or could be trusted, and second because they had been indoctrinated in the notion that this leader had all the answers and could be trusted implicitly.

But you should also examine your assumptions. It is quite common for child molesters and the rapists of teens to give their victims gifts, candy, money or privileges, both initially as part of the grooming process (so that the child will trust the perp or be reluctant to be clear with protective adult figures about what is going on (of course these folks often groom the parents as well) but also deeper into the abuse and violence as a way to control the victim by compounding the shame and confusion. It also provides the perp with some sort of internal justification for their actions.

[ed. - The following is a sampling of the discussion that followed Elena's action. Steven Dambeck, Wayne Mott, Robert Mearns, and Abraham Goldman are, or have been, official Fellowship of Friends representatives.]

"Joseph G" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 4, 2008:
I heard there was some kind of confrontation outside the property entrance yesterday that involved law enforcement and Abraham G. Just a rumor. Anyone know more?

"elena" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 6, 2008:
Joseph G.
Thursday morning I was there with four signs that said:
How many more boys Dear?
Where did you leave the human?
Second line for idolatry? School for Cult?
For how long in denial?
I brought an old wooden ladder and hammered two of the signs and placed it on the side of the road, another one behind the car which I placed at the very corner turning towards regent way and I was holding one at different times.
The Sheriff came shortly after, told me to move the ladder a few meters and left. Came back shortly after and asked me what the signs said. I explained. He said he had been called many times and that they were saying the signs were defamatory but he did not find them defamatory so I could stay. Then another policeman came in the car with lights on top. He said I could not put any signs on the road, that the roads were the counties and the land, private property so unless I had a friend to put them I had to take away. So I asked what was the public space and the first Sheriff said, from gutter to gutter. So I asked if I put the signs on myself and walk from gutter to gutter can I do so? And the new policeman said yes. They talked with four men from the property for a long time. The President of the FOF, Mr. Mearns, Wayne M. Abraham I couldn’t see, and others who had driven down. Steven D. had driven by and told me I could not sit in the bus stop, it was his property and had called the Sheriff again. Many of the ladies in the ranks drove by. Many members. I drank too much water and my kidneys started hurting badly, I had to leave after three hours. I’ve heard kidneys don’t hurt but mine hurt badly since the surgery.
On Friday, they had parked two cars where I had parked the day before and brought another big trailer and put it on the right side so I parked right next to the gatehouse so that members could see the signs as they turned which I planted inside the car’s trunk with big wooden poles. Mr. Mearns drove down and told me that was Fellowship property and he’d call the Sheriff. The Sheriff took about forty five minutes to get there. I was standing in front of the gatehouse, in the corner with two signs so that I could meet those coming from regent and those from rices crossing and tried to talk to the Sheriff as he arrived but he told me to stay where I was, parked in the side next to the gatehouse, spoke with Mr. Mearns, looked at where my car was parked and explained to Mr. Mearns that I was using the same principle the other three cars were using and he could not ask me to move and that it was freedom of speech, independence day. He walked over to me and told me I was O.K. and left, so I drove my car a little closer to the edge of the turn next to the gatehouse and stayed there for about two hours.
I went again at four thirty on Friday, there was a toast at five thirty and a reception. Hundreds of students drove by. One screamed at me that they weren’t boys, that they were men and that he was one of them. Others looked much concerned. R. laughed. I guess she wasn’t doing the exercise!
Good for her. Many smiled, waved. I made one bad mistake because a lady stopped the traffic coming out of Apollo, asked me what that was all about and I thought she was making fun of me so I said, if you don’t know, Idon’t either. She looked frustrated and said sorry so I understood she was that oblivious of the blog, the boys, everything. I am very sorry with you, whoever you are.
Wayne M. came and took pictures of the signs and me after they realized they couldn’t accomplish anything with the Sheriff. I suppose they’ll sue me eventually. Who knows.
This afternoon someone in a white car with a red line in the front did as though they were going to run me over as I walked alone down the street. They changed their mind. I didn’t move. Just threatening fortunately.
The confrontation was obviously bringing them “down to earth”. I hope some of you in the vicinity feel inspired to do it every so often so that those on the fence can happily fall out knowing life is in the Public Square of towns and cities, were all people can fit.
I will go again and again, for as long as I can. You could come with your own signs and say what you think is worth saying.

"steve lang" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 6, 2008:
Congratulations! How interesting that Wayne Mo** would bring a camera to document what was sanctioned by the authorities as legal freedom of speech. That other brainwashed follower, Steven “Olive Oil” Damb*** was sounds equally over-protective in his reaction to your presence.
Speaking of olive oil, I don’t know how it is now, but when Steven first opened his oil business, he was using unpaid help (I was one of them) to pick his harvest from the trees that were located on Fellowship property. How did he manage to use Fellowship property to make a private profit?

"elena" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 6, 2008:
Many people driving to the meeting this morning. Two more signs, one said:
“Life” 4th Way
the other one said:
Fem. Dom. (Family, friends, life) Cult Dominance (Robert, Robert, Robert)
Steven D. came again and told me the video camera was in his property. I placed it next to the public pole, the yuba foothills sign, the yard sale ad and the traffic sign. He was angry. My legs were shaky! Another guy took pictures of it and the other signs.
Some locals stopped and asked me if I was against the Fellowship. I said yes, they said, that is brave and put their thumbs up. Yesterday too. Blair stopped at the gatehouse for a while, spoke with the gatekeeper, then he met me at the Oregon House Store and asked me if I still had the house here.
There’s the journey forth by day from July 18th to 27th, they say the aim is to have as many followers as possible come to the events. It would be good if others joined the picketing. Please consider it. Maybe a big one that weekend?

[ed. - In a December 3, 2011 post to her blog The Public Square, Elena reflects on the events of this period and her evolution since.]

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