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.")

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. Read more about the blog.

Presented in a reverse chronology, the Fellowship's history may be navigated via the "Blog Archive" located in the sidebar below.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Apollo Olive Oil sales benefit The Fellowship of Friends

Apollo Olive Oil owners, Fellowship of Friends cult members, Oregon House, CA
Fellowship of Friends members and Apollo Olive Oil  principals.
Apollo's olive orchards are atop the mountain in the  background,
 on Fellowship of Friends property. Photo from Sierra Culture

[ed. - Robert Burton inculcated in his followers a disregard for "life people" (non-members) whom he regarded as mere "sleeping machines." Burton has often stated that he is above man-made laws and this attitude manifests itself in a disrespect for society's rules, attempts to avoid compliance, misrepresentation, and outright dishonesty in dealings with the world outside Apollo. Burton has in the past instructed members to walk away from debts and commitments, especially in the face of calamities he prophesied (such as a 1984 depression, the 1998 Fall of California and 2006 Armageddon.)

The "errors of omission" in promoting Apollo Olive Oil appear to be an example of this culture of dishonesty.

A brochure from the Fellowship's Renaissance Vineyard and Winery, which also promotes Apollo Olive Oil, states: "Apollo Olive Oil grows their organic olives on the vineyard slopes that are best known for the award-winning Renaissance Wines." 

This January 2004 Appeal-Democrat article  fails to mention that most Apollo "growers and processors" are Fellowship members, and that trees are on both private and Fellowship-owned parcels.

This February 2010 Appeal-Democrat article, authored by Salim Ben-Mami, also a Fellowship member, conveniently avoids mention of Robert Burton and the Fellowship.

April 2014: Filmed on location at The Fellowship of Friends Apollo compound: Apollo Olive Oil, Pt. 1, Apollo Olive Oil, Pt. 2, Apollo Olive Oil, Pt. 3.]

"Tim Campion" posted on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, December 2, 2011:
[Responding to] Page 115, Post 98 – Shirley

Regarding Apollo Olive Oil:

From the Yuba-Sutter Wiki article on Fellowship of Friends [ed. - bolds are mine]:
Apollo Olive Oil, which is also headquartered in Oregon House, states, “While some of the Apollo Olive Oil owners may be members, there is no connection” between Apollo Olive Oil and Fellowship of Friends.
All the Apollo Olive Oil employees mentioned on their website appear to be current [Fellowship of Friends] members. We can assume these members pay a tithe [minimum 10%, but more likely over 20% of gross income] to (or perhaps barter with) the Fellowship of Friends. Aren’t some (or all?) of the olive orchards on “church property”? If the land is leased, doesn’t the Fellowship benefit?
Reportedly, Fellowship labor has been used for Apollo Olive Oil operations. No connection? Wouldn’t that be somewhat untruthful? [ed. - Oh, and by the way, the Fellowship of Friends calls its Oregon House property "Apollo". Merely coincidence?]
For anyone inclined to encourage their local Apollo Olive Oil buyers to question the source of that oil:
Store accounts
Restaurant accounts

"veramente" posted on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, December 22, 2011:

"Tim Campion" commented on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, December 23, 2011:
42. veramente [post number and blogger]

Thanks for posting the Apollo Olive Oil video. Clearly, there’s no connection between A.O.O. and the Fellowship of Friends – even though the olive groves shown are on top of Dixon Hill (Fellowship of Friends property.) And aren’t they processing those olives inside the Fellowship’s winery? Sure looks like it to me!

"Tim Campion" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, December 17, 2011:
Submitted today:
TO: Mr. Tom Mueller, author of Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil
Dear Mr. Mueller,
I have enjoyed hearing your recent interviews on WHYY’s “Fresh Air” and on APM’s “Marketplace”.
I write this with some hesitancy, as I am loathe to condemn a product with a fine reputation. However, you should know that one of the acclaimed olive oils from California is indeed intimately connected with a cult of dubious moral standing.
The Fellowship of Friends, an authoritarian cult, began the undertaking that would become “Apollo Olive Oil”. The Fellowship of Friends headquarters in Oregon House, CA is called Apollo, and all personnel listed on Apollo Olive Oil’s website are (or were until recently) members of the cult. (Stephen [sic] Dambeck has in fact been a Fellowship of Friends officer and minister.)
[ed. - Here Steven Dambeck performs a wedding at Apollo.]
According to accounts (please see the below websites for further discussion), the leader of the Fellowship of Friends, Robert Earl Burton has been charged on a number of occasions with sexual abuse, and at least in one instance, the alleged abuse involved a minor. I can speak with some authority about the nature of the cult and the leader’s abuses, as I was a member for thirteen years.
I was their Purchasing Manager, and went on to become Purchasing Manager for Chateau St. Jean Vineyards and Winery and subsequently Director of Corporate Purchasing for the Robert Mondavi Corporation. (My profile is on LinkedIn.)
As my career in purchasing developed, business ethics became a paramount concern. It was essential that I develop an understanding of those with whom I dealt and hold both myself and them to the highest ethical standards. Only then could I endorse a supplier or product, and encourage others to trust them.
Apollo Olive Oil is using the occasion of your new book release to promote their own products, and at the same time deny any connection with the Fellowship of Friends, which has been recognized as an inconvenient liability in the marketplace.
In the spirit of your investigation into corruption in the olive oil industry, if the occasion should arise for you to endorse, or otherwise speak favorably of Apollo Olive Oil, I hope that you will have first done some research into their story, and have asked the difficult questions about their true affiliations, exact location of their orchards, source of their labor, organizations which they support, etc.
Thank you for your attention.
Tim Campion
Santa Rosa, CA
Further Reading:

Robert Earl Burton: An Unauthorized Blogography

Fellowship of Friends Discussion

"For the record" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 8, 2011:
There are hundreds of olive trees on the fof [Fellowship of Friends] estate — assuming they haven’t been cut down for firewood. And presumably Apollo Olive Oil harvests from those trees. And then it makes you wonder if “salaried” labor is doing the picking, and if they are the ones caring for those trees.
So again, just asking: Does the FOF receive money for the harvest? Is free olive oil provided for Burton’s dinners? Does a percentage of proceeds from the sales go to the FOF?
I appreciate the labor of love involved (it’s an excellent product).
But even if the money is relatively small, it’s just something to think about. I sometimes thought my teaching payments were fairly small, too, until I gained a better understanding of what they were paying for…

"For the record" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 9, 2011:
63. Tempus Fugit [blog post number and blogger]:
“Of course buying olive oil . . . provides direct support to all of Burton’s activities. Vote with your money.”
There’s plenty of quality olive oil to be found everywhere — I’ve never even considered buying the “Apollo” brand. But while you and I are voting “No” with our wallets, hundreds of people are buying this olive oil from store shelves without realizing that they are voting “Yes.” There’s no transparency about who is running the operation, and where the money is going from revenues. If most people knew, they would vote “No” as well. But they don’t know.
So my questions are: Is the money significant? Or is it providing little or no support to Burton? I haven’t heard any details about this operation regarding how much money it makes and whether it’s funding Burton. If it IS funding Burton’s activities in significant amounts, or if it has that potential, then this is something that we should share with the public more directly. That was the spirit of my questions earlier.

"Ames Gilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 27, 2009:
Dr Pangloss (# 80-85) [blogger, blog page and post],

Steven Dambeck helped found Apollo Olive Oil. He and the other owners/managers offer brief biographies under the “Our Story” tab on the main page of their website. The list on that page includes Gianni Stefanini, Diana Stefanini (used to be married to Karl Werner, the FoF/Renaissance Vineyards and Winery winemaster, and herself the successor to Karl as winemaster for a time), Pablo Voitzuk, Andreas Ponoysyan, Juan Jose Domingo, and Steve McCulley. As far as I know, they are all members of the Fellowship of Friends.
They sell their oil at about $20 for 375ml (about 12 ½ oz), and also sell the mozarella cheese from the famous water buffalo herd at a similarly upscale price. They claim the oil is organic and extra-virgin (but I’d bear in mind the idea of “intentional insincerity” as it pertains to ‘life people’). I have no idea if part of his crop comes from trees on the FoF property planted on Burton’s orders, but if it does, that raises the question of inurement.
I remember Steven Dambeck up on the stage leading a meeting a few weeks after Richard Buzbee’s letter was distributed in 1994. That was the letter telling of his sexual encounter with Burton, and detailing how he’d just found out that Burton had been having sex with his son Troy from a young age. Steven Dambeck, Wayne Mott, Gunter Weninger and others on stage all admitted that they had had sex with Burton, and proceeded to tell us that what a great thing it was for them and their ‘evolution’. Maybe it was, how would I know? What I do know is that it was a major distraction from what many in the audience wanted to discuss, which was, how can a relationship between a ‘teacher’ and a ‘student’ possibly be considered consensual when Burton has all the power and his ‘partners’ are relatively powerless? All the questions along these lines were ignored or marked as ‘negative’ in some way, and Dambeck just kept on asking for questions until he found ones that suited his purposes. He was hunting for questions about morality, with special emphasis on the inapplicability of ‘life’ morality to these situations. There were also plenty of appeals for us to respect Burton’s private life, claims that his private life should be of no concern to us, and so on.
Around that time (1994), I also heard that Dambeck had stated that he would be willing to kill for Burton. I thought that unlikely, and also heard that he vehemently denied it, so that’s what I used to say when the subject came up. Since then, however, I have spoken to two people who swear that they heard him say those words, and they seem very sincere. So, without putting everyone concerned through a polygraph, we may never know for sure if he said that, and if so, if he meant it.

"Richard M." wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 6, 2008:
32. steve lang [blog post and blogger]
“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?”
Here is an interesting quote from the Apollo Olive Oil web site (capital letters added by me for emphasis):
Steven planted HIS first 600 olive trees in 1979, on steep slopes adjacent to HIS fruit orchard. And, after traveling extensively through the Mediterranean during the 1980’s, he knew he wanted to make olive oil.
So every FOF member who contributed their personal time laboring in the orchard/olive grove at Apollo since 1979, thinking they were working for THEIR church’s orchard and olive grove, were apparently working free for Mr. Dumb**k and HIS for-profit olive oil company. Guess who paid for his extensive travel through the Mediterranean during the 1980s. This certainly poses legal and, at least, ethical questions about personal inurement from a non-profit organization. By the way, if any olive oilers are reading this, the use of “1980′s” in your text is a grammatical error.

"Associated Press" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 7, 2008:
35. steve lang [blog post and blogger] – July 6, 2008:
How did he [Steven D*mb*ck] manage to use Fellowship property to make a private profit?
Answer: Private inurement. According to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service: ‘Churches and religious organizations, like all exempt organizations under IRC [Internal Revenue Code] section 501(c)(3), are prohibited from engaging in activities that result in inurement of the church’s or organization’s income or assets to insiders (i.e., persons having a personal and private interest in the activities of the organization). Insiders could include the minister, church board members, officers, and in certain circumstances, employees. Examples of prohibited inurement include the payment of dividends, the payment of unreasonable compensation to insiders, and transferring property to insiders for less than fair market value. The prohibition against inurement to insiders is absolute; therefore, any amount of inurement is, potentially, grounds for loss of tax-exempt status.’ [Steven D*mb*ck possibly is, or possibly was, a minister of the Fellowship of Friends church. Steven D*mb*ck possibly was the recipient of the gift of real property from the assets of the Fellowship of Friends church. That would be the property where his home now stands. Steven D*mb*ck, according to Elena in her recent account above, possibly claims to own property that belongs to an homeowners' association and is owned as 'community property.' Steven D*mb*ck possibly is, or possibly was, the recipient of favourable, no-bid, business arrangements with the Fellowship of Friends church (likely directed by the head hauncho himself). The Ap*ll* Ol*v* O*l company may be likewise favourably treated. Benefits may extend beyond just the olives - i.e. to other agricultural areas and materials. Steven D*mb*ck possibly is 'person having a personal and private interest in the activities of the organization.' The practices of Steven D*mb*ck and Ap*ll* Ol*v* O*l may be worthy of investigation for exploitation of workers (both legal and illegal workers, as well as possibly using Fellowship of Friends' religious workers for the benefit of these private interests; both in the past and possibly now.] ‘An IRC section 501(c)(3) organization’s activities must be directed exclusively toward charitable, educational, religious, or other exempt purposes. Such an organization’s activities may not serve the private interests of any individual or organization. Rather, beneficiaries of an organization’s activities must be recognized objects of charity (such as the poor or the distressed) or the community at large (for example, through the conduct of religious services or the promotion of religion). Private benefit is different from inurement to insiders. Private benefit may occur even if the persons benefited are not insiders. Also, private benefit must be substantial in order to jeopardize tax-exempt status.’ [Perhaps Steven D*mb*ck is a charity case. But to single one out in that manner may constitute 'private benefit.' And, likely, 'substantial' at that.] - – - – - - To all: The lessons of love taught by the Fellowship of Friends are primarily ‘tough love.’ That is what abusers primarily understand and that is why they deliver it upon others.

"Rear View Mirror" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 16, 2008 at 9:10 p.m.:
CVB [blogger]: “Fellowship is unable to pay the insurance on at least some of it’s vehicles. They can no longer be driven off the property.”

LOL. I didn’t realize RVW/FOF [Renaissance Vineyard and Winery/Fellowship of Friends] actually cared about insurance and vehicle safety, etc. Maybe a few bad experiences over the years have changed their thinking.
Thanks for that report. Some of the more devoted followers with larger bank accounts must be keeping the ship afloat?

By the way, for those who don’t know… Apollo Olive Oil is intimately affiliated with the Fellowship of Friends. It’s interesting that the company takes great pains to distance itself from the cult.

Unless I missed an obscure reference buried somewhere within their pages, there’s not one mention of the FOF on their website.

And here’s some irony: At the very top of their home page, they link a New Yorker article about fraud in the olive oil business. I’m not sure what they’re suggesting… that somehow Apollo Olive Oil and the Fellowship of Friends are above fraud?

"Rear View Mirror" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 16, 2008 at 9:15 p.m.:
Here’s the text of the link and the link itself:

“Recent article in the New Yorker exposes fraud in the Italian olive oil business. ‘Fraud is so widespread that few growers can make an honest living,’ one expert says.”

Unbelievable. “Make an honest living,” is not a phrase you’d expect on any website affiliated with the Fellowship of Friends.

"Vena" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 17, 2008 at 4:03 a.m.:
Rear View Mirror [responding to blogger above]:

I was told about a food co-op in Oregon that became aware of the connection between Apollo Olive Oil and the Fellowship of Friends. They were disgusted by the story and said they would not be ordering anymore.

"Rear View Mirror" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 17, 2008 at 4:18 p.m.:
Vena (509)[blogger and blog post number], That’s good news. I’m glad the Oregon co-op became aware of it.
Just a suggestion for those who happen to notice Apollo Olive Oil on the shelves… Many store owners may appreciate hearing the truth about it. 

Regarding Apollo Olive Oil’s home page announcement that fraud is running rampant in the Italian olive oil business… I have just one word:
Main Entry: hyp·o·crite
Pronunciation: \ˈhi-pə-ˌkrit\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English ypocrite, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin hypocrita, from Greek hypokritēs actor, hypocrite, from hypokrinesthai
Date: 13th century
1 : a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion
2 : a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings

Ok, more than one word. I do have a friendly note to our olive oil enthusiasts, many of whom I know from many years ago, and still love…

I also was a hypocrite. I also was mired in an illusion. I also believed it, and then later saw myself believing a lie.

What will it take for you?

"KA" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 6, 2007 at 3:05 a.m.:
 [Quoting a blogger:]
Let Apollo Arts become self sufficient. Let Apollo Olive Oil, the orchard, the reduced vineyard….
Hi Sharon and all,

Actually these are private enterprises. The olive oil and organic cherry orchards are very successful– I would guess because the products are *wonderful* and are smartly marketed. I think a lease is paid to the fof [Fellowship of Friends] for the space to grow/make the products. (Has everyone tasted the olive oil? I am in awe. Finally, a good product from that landscape that has a taste that reflects the good parts.)

Current members are not dummies. Some of us (current and former) have never fit in completely, but that does not mean that we can’t find a niche. That is what California was invented for. (well, maybe the whole west coast…)

"Tim Campion" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, February 19, 2014:
Apollo Olive Oil is prominently featured in this photo from an Associated Press article published nationally yesterday. Unfortunately, organizations such as All Things Olive, the American Olive Oil Producers Association, and the California Olive Oil Council unwittingly serve Robert Burton’s Fellowship of Friends by promoting the cult’s products.

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