Italian Government Report on Cults in Italy--a preliminary investigation

April 29, 1998

The Fellowship of Friends

The Fellowship of Friends (FOF) has been officially acknowledged by local and federal government as a religious and non-profit organization since 1971 (in the USA, the only requirement that must be satisfied to have this status is to organize regular meetings and have a religious statute).

The founder and leader is Robert Burton, [58] years old, a former primary schools teacher, and a former attendee of the Quaker Church in Berkeley (this experience may have inspired Burton the name of the cult).

In 1968, Burton was fascinated by the books of George Gurdjieff and Peter Ouspensky, two esoteric types and founders of a religious-philosophic teaching--that include various influences from Christian mysticism , Sufism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism. The ultimate aim [of this philosophic teaching] is to reach the "Fourth Way"--that is the "liberation and full consciousness of the being".

In 1970 Burton convinced some friends of Contra Costa county he was a the "fifth man", referred to by Ouspensky defined as "a conscious being with a higher knowledge and emotions [than] the majority of people".

In 1971 the group bought some estates in the Yuba county, near the small community of Oregon House, and in 1973, following the esoteric idea--that observance of specific traditions helps one reach spiritual enlightenment. The group turned the soil, planted vines and started an agricultural concern--called "Renaissance". The Products of this enterprise won international prizes and supposedly were tasted by the Prince of Wales, former president George Bush and other international figures.

The community grew more and more and became known as "Apollo"--now 600 of the 2,000 members of FOF live there. They contribute directly to the organization working in many activities--from administration to the cultivation. These people receive a salary of about [$500 dollars per month] (meals are provided by the association)--but Burton himself reportedly receives an annual salary of $250,000.00 plus additional benefits.

Other followers of the FOF operate about 40 "centers"--usually, rented houses occupied by a half dozen or so members. These centers are scattered in cities within the United States, Europe and South America.

To recruit new members FOF devotees often have inserted a bookmark within specific volumes at bookstores regarding metaphysics--around the world. On the bookmarks there are, along with pictures of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, the phone numbers of the nearest centers operated by the FOF.

People who respond to these bookmarks are then invited to attend group meetings--where the leaders of the center present some of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky's theories. Also--they may receive some information about the seven fundamental "Body Types" that seem to help broad psychological research within the human soul.

Subsequently, if the new comer is considered "suitable", he may become part of the organization. Due to this original technique of recruitment--it seems that the foreign membership has continuously grown. Today membership outside the United States may now form the majority of FOF.

All the members must give to the organization 10% of their income every month. Also special donations are often required to buy sculptures, paintings, and other art works, considered useful tools to enrich the soul and stimulate "self -remembering".

The group's leader Robert Burton spends much of his time on trips, in order to teach at the various centers scattered around the world and to look for new artworks to collect. As a consequence, the Association owns many fine porcelains, European Renaissance paintings, and Chinese furniture.

Burton's preaching (he is called "the Teacher") is almost nonsense.

He supposedly maintains contact with the "C influence" formed by 44 angels. Among these are Jesus, Plato, Goethe, Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln.

Moreover, Burton predicted that a earthquake would destroy California in 1998, and that in 2006 there will be a world nuclear holocaust. Only Apollo Community and FOF members will survive these disasters.

Daily life within the sect is regulated by very rigid rules: it is forbidden to swim, joke, smoke and all the given teachings must be kept. All those outside the association are considered "enemies", especially the police, doctors, priests and institutions in general. That is--whatever is seen as an obstacle to spiritual enlightenment must be removed.

Until 1993 homosexuality too was banned, though Burton himself is a homosexual and has often had sexual encounters with his followers. Some ex-members have accused Burton of exploiting his charisma and power within the FOF to satisfy himself. This was the basis for some judicial proceedings that caused many members to leave the group (i.e. Burton was sued in United States for abuse of trust, sexual abuse of minors, and psychological suffering intentionally caused).

There are FOF Centers in Florence, Rome, Venice, and Palermo. The total number of Italian members seems to be about 50.

End of FOF section within report

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