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, September 25, 2014

Fellowship of Friends sues Yuba County over tax status

[ed. - The Fellowship of Friends and County of Yuba settled in 2017.]

Robert Earl Burton Fellowship of Friends cult Goethe Room dinner, Apollo, Oregon House, CA
Robert Earl Burton leads a formal dinner inside The Fellowship of Friends Galleria. Source: Living Presence
"We do what we can when we can and would wish to do more as we can. We ask nothing in return as this is what community supporters do." - Fellowship of Friends President, Greg Holman, May 27, 2014
[ed. - see also: Group's tax refund shot down and Fellowship of Friends Request for Tax Refunds Based on Religious and Welfare Property Tax Exemptions]

From the Appeal-Democrat, September 25, 2014:
A Yuba County foothills organization is seeking a $600,000 property tax refund, claiming its worship center should not be taxed.

The Fellowship of Friends filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the county, asking for the refund and a declaration the center be protected through religious exemptions from future taxation.

Yuba County spokesman Russ Brown said Wednesday he would not comment on pending litigation.

The complaint filed in Yuba County Superior Court says the Fellowship was erroneously and illegally taxed between 2009 and 2013 when the county assessor refused to recognize the Fellowship's right to religious and welfare exemptions.

The Fellowship, headquartered at 12607 Rices Crossing Road, Oregon House, describes itself as a nondenominational church with principles based on "universal religious teachings that transmit the art and science of recognizing and experiencing a Divine Presence."

There are 1,600 members of the church in more than 30 countries throughout the world, according to information included with the petition. The central focus of the suit is a multi-use 5,600-square-foot building referred to as the Galleria, described as housing books, antiques, sculptures, tapestries, instruments, and other arts considered by followers to be vehicles for transmitting the immortal state of Divine Presence.

"Ames Gilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, September 26, 2014:
From the Appeal-Democrat article Tim linked to above (referring to ‘The Academy’) [now, The Galleria]:
… The Fellowship closed the property to the pubic and it now “remains exclusively a place of religious worship and ceremonial religious events.”
Ha, ha, ha!

Of course, I have no idea what the layout is now, but for many years after ‘The Academy’ was built, the north wing was devoted solely to the use of Burton, including the ‘emergency escape tunnel’ leading from under the floor of his bedroom. IIRC [if I recall correctly], there was also a TV/entertainment room, and certainly lots of storage for clothes and shoes. There was the brick-lined cellar where wine was stored, with enough space for two bedrooms used by the ‘boys’ in favor at the time. The south wing contained a kitchen, ‘Wordsworth dining room’, a library, and a couple of rooms decorated with Egyptian furniture, mostly used for Burton and small FoF [Fellowship of Friends] business meetings, where he gave out the day’s orders.

The main central part consisted of an ornately decorated entrance foyer, and the large events room. On the west side, there were large doors leading to a covered semi-circular portico area, the roof supported with pillars. This was used for outdoors dining, and from there steps descended to the enclosed, rather formal, rose garden.

So, the north wing was devoted solely to Burton’s comforts, and was the scene of many of his ‘religious events’ of a sexual nature. The south wing was also devoted to Burton’s comforts, though followers were invited to share in the dining experience and fruits of the kitchen from time to time (but now also transformed into a lucrative fundraising gig). The cellar held his collection of expensive wines and housed his sexual playthings of the moment. And the main center room was used for concerts and other events, including ’symposiums’ and more prodigious fund-raising.

In reality, pretty much the entire building centered on Burton and the attempt to satisfy his insatiable desires and proclivity for dominance and control.

Admittedly, there were a lot of possessions there, paintings by third-tier artists, gaudy (but always expensive) trinkets that happened to catch Burton’s eye, plenty of ormolu. In various places on the GF [Greater Fellowship] site are some photo updates since that time, including one of a fresco on the ceiling celebrating the rampant erection of a particular (and easily recognizable) follower—perhaps caught in a religious sexual ceremony that was particularly memorable for Burton. And there is always the oil portrait of Burton-and-dog as a reminder of the ‘brightest light in 2,000 years if one tires of the rest.

Back to the article. I remember the furor over the Yuba county tax claims on real property—which included the contents—this is usual. Abraham Goldman came up with the scheme to make it into tax-exempt museum. That left a small problem: it was actually mainly the luxurious residence of Conscious Bob. So, Dr. Ethan H., offered his splendid, just completed, residence half a mile away, to Burton (I have no idea what the quid pro quo was). Burton accepted, and the circus had its base there for a number of years, and Ethan rented another house in the meantime.

So the FoF applied for a permit to make it into a museum, ostensibly ‘open to the public’, which AFAIK [as far as I know] was a requirement for tax-exempt status. That didn’t sit well (one of the ‘onerous conditions’, I suppose; another may have been a requirement to upgrade the access road to the museum to make it fit for the public to use, I don’t know). Long story short, it didn’t suit the FoF to meet the conditions. Later, Ethan got his house back, and Burton returned to the Academy.

So now the FoF is making what seems to me to be a rather weak claim for a tax refund. This is odd, since they requested the change to ‘museum’ status in the first place. They didn’t meet the terms, which means the county taxed them in the meantime at the usual rate for the value of the building and the contents. Now the FoF wants a post-dated religious exemption. But, if the county wishes to look more closely, they will discover the reality: this is just another facet of the ongoing and illegal inurement. That is, the building is mostly used, IMO, for the pleasure of Robert Burton, not for the benefit of the members of the church, and should not have tax exempt status. Moreover the private use value to Burton should be added to his personal income and taxed as such.

[ed. - The following is apparently a message to Fellowship members from Girard Haven, who for decades has been Robert Burton's surrogate.]

"J.D." wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, September 29, 2014:
Message from the Whitman Glen Office [the Fellowship's business office]:
“Galleria property tax exemption effort”

Dear Friends,

We would like all of you to be aware of a legal action the Fellowship initiated earlier this week. A suit was filed against Yuba County for the recognition of our Religious Property Tax Exemption for the Galleria. You may read about it in today’s Appeal Democrat front page top or online at the

We have tried very hard to work with Yuba County to obtain the religious and welfare exemptions that we are due under the law, but we have been denied at every turn. We are now forced to sue the County, incurring additional legal expenses for both the Fellowship of Friends and the County’s other taxpayers, in order to receive the tax-exempt property status granted to dozens of other religious organizations in Yuba County.

As part of our court filing, the Fellowship is seeking a refund of property taxes that have been erroneously and illegally collected by Yuba County over the last four years. Recently, there has been some misrepresentation by others about our intentions for this property, so we want to be clear: this property is used as our primary place of worship and other ceremonial religious events. Our intention is that this property remains exclusively a place of religious worship and ceremonial religious events. The County should live up to its obligation to provide the Fellowship of Friends with the same property tax exemptions afforded to other places of worship in Yuba County.

Please be advised that now that this is an open case in the courts that we will not be talking about it any further. You may refer any inquires to me at 530-692-[xxxx] ext. 8217 or my cell phone 530-301-[xxxx].

Thank you,

G. H. [assumed to be Girard Haven]

"Ames Gilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, October 1, 2014:
J.D. (#142-212 or thereabouts) [responding to above],

Thanks for the update on the latest intra-organization propaganda and group thought-orientation exercise. The message is clear: here is the official story, the only story, get with it. Note that, being a Man Number Five, Haven has taken it upon himself to decide precisely when he or the organization can stop talking about it. The trouble is, an observer using the same reasoning could not help but notice that this official letter to all members itself was delivered after it became an open case, thus undoubtedly breaking the implied rule (presumably that a party to the case cannot comment while the case is open?). Moreover, it has a whiff of witness tampering. If anyone from the FoF is called as a witness during the case, they will have probably already have read the letter and understood what they are supposed to say. Add the knowledge of the liberal permission for ‘Intentional Insincerity™’ that Burton’s religion has clearly espoused from its founding, and an impartial observer might deduce that the chances of the witness telling the truth and nothing but the whole truth approaches 0%. Not to mention the shining example of the low, low standard of truthfulness demonstrated by Burton himself over the last forty-three years or more.

The trouble with this narrative is that it is false. It is no more used as a place of worship for the members than as a museum for the benefit of the general public. Here’s the way I see it.

In a typical 24-hour period when Burton is in residence (that is, not taking a luxurious all-expenses-paid vacation somewhere else), the Academy is, on average, populated only by God Emperor of Oregon House and his harem. It is true that there are other servants floating about ministering to his needs, cleaning, screening his phone calls, preparing meals or arranging flowers, but they are not free agents or visitors. And it is true that various minions scurry in and out on Fellowship business throughout the day, seeking directions and instructions from the Oracle of Apollo. The exceptions are when the gates are flung open for a few hours to host fund-raising; concerts, meals and meetings. Almost all of these are paid events (the lavish scale of payments has been documented extensively previously in this blog), and all the money in effect accrues to Burton to dispose of as he wishes. I make no claims as to whether he pays taxes in the full amount—or at all—on these large sums, but I’m certain that a substantial portion of the take is spent on his personal expenses and those of his entourage.

And when Burton is not in residence, the fundraising activities may continue under the auspices of Asaf Braverman, Girard Haven, or other anointed representative.

Now all this can be crammed under the rather broad cloak of ‘religion’, but my point is this: most of the benefits of this building accrue to Burton himself, not his followers. Paying the minister a reasonable salary for services rendered is one thing, but payments whether in cash, kind, or sperm on the scale that Burton demands is another. I’d hazard that an investigator who had access to all the records, Burton’s tax return, and financial details involving him, would find a clear case of excessive compensation, that is, illegal inurement. The IRS puts it this way: “…prohibition against private inurement means that individuals within that organization may not receive excessive compensation or benefit from their employment or association, because such arrangement would contravene the supposed mission of the organization.” That is, the organization cannot be set up to especially benefit particular members or the founder.

When the Fellowship of Friends was incorporated, the Article VII of the Articles of Incorporation specifically pointed out the prohibition against inurement. It states: The property of this corporation is irrevocably dedicated to religious purposes and no part of the net income or assets of the organization shall ever inure to the benefit of any director, officer, or member thereof or to the benefit of any private persons.

Two of the nine members who signed that document in 1979 are still around, Linda Rockwood (former name) and Ethan Harris. They know better. Of course, not being present at the signing does not in the least absolve present and past members of the Board of Directors and the Fellowship Council of their responsibilities, as the letter sent to the Board by David Springfield made clear (curious readers may Google ‘David Springfield Letter’ or ‘david-springfield-letter-2009.doc’ to find a copy of this remarkable and revealing document on the internet).

Note to those exploring these pages for the first time: ‘Intentional Insincerity™’ is Burton-speak for lying when it suits himself or a follower, which is most of the time. This is supposedly done as a deliberate act of will, ‘in the moment’, which makes it o.k.

P.S. The Legal Eagle site nicely displays the arguments of the case the FoF lost in 1991, concerning whether the Academy qualified as a museum:

[ed. - Many former members of Robert Burton's "inner circle" claim that the embattled Galleria has frequently been put to other, less sacred uses. For some examples, see:  "Inner Circle Facts" and "When I'm 64". What public good, deserving of tax-exemption, is served by these "religious activities" on Galleria grounds?]

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