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Group Information
Title Fellowship of Friends
Founder Robert Earl Burton (aka The Teacher)
Description

Alternate Names of the Group: The Fellowship, The School Group The following information provided by a former member of the group:

Description:

"There is a fair amount of information on the web about this group, so I won't go into exhaustive detail. It was founded by Robert Burton in 1970 in No. California. Early on, the group purchased a large amount of property outside Chico, Ca. It was founded as a "4th Way School" along the lines of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky's organizations. The leader's lifestyle can be read about in a lawsuit that has been published on the web, along with several newspaper articles detailing his activities. The group maintains a central facility on the California property, with a well-regarded winery and art museum. The leader is charismatic, controlling, largely inaccessible and prone to making dire prophecies that never come to pass. Imitation of the leader permeates the organization, held in place by fear-based peer pressure and religious zealotry. Criticism of the leader and the organization is strictly forbidden. Burton claims his spiritual development is second only to Christ's -- !! that he is "enlightened," "conscious," "an angel in a man's body," and so on."

The BITE Model As Applied to Fellowship of Friends:

Behavior
Control
1. Regulation of individual's physical reality
  a. Where, how and with whom the member lives and associates with
  b. What clothes, colors, hairstyles the person wears
  c. What food the person eats, drinks, adopts, and rejects
  d. How much sleep the person is able to have
  e. Financial dependence
  f. Little or no time spent on leisure, entertainment, vacations

2. Major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals

3. Need to ask permission for major decisions

4. Need to report thoughts, feelings and activities to superiors

5. Rewards and punishments (behavior modification techniques- positive and negative).

6. Individualism discouraged; group think prevails

7. Rigid rules and regulations

8. Need for obedience and dependency.

Behaviors: 1. All of these aspects are strictly regulated. Members are strongly discouraged from associating with those outside the group, and even with family members. Though this changes over time, rules about clothes and personal appearance abound. There are rules regarding how members eat, and on occasion, what they eat and drink. (For example, for a time soft drinks and bacon were forbidden.) The leader at one time suggested sleeping no more than 6 hours per night, and there was strong peer pressure to conform. As a result, some members' health was damaged (mine included). The financial commitment was large at first, and increased until it was enormous. 10% of your income was the base payment, plus a constant series of "special donations" (required) and "special requests" (not required, but strongly "encouraged"). Members who chose to live and work on the Fellowship property were paid less than minimum wage, to my knowledge, while being asked to work excessively long hours. Those not living on the property were "encouraged" to spend their vacations there, generally spending their time participating in the manual labor. 2. At the time of my membership, students were encouraged to live in group houses called "teaching houses." Those who didn't were tangibly judged as being "less serious about work on themselves." This seems to be less the case these days, however, as the general population of students has aged. There were generally two 2-hour meetings per week, along with special activities and dinners, but again, students were strongly pressured to spend any leisure time in the company of other students, and to avoid unnecessary contact with outside people. 3. This definitely happened, but in reality, there was a rule or "suggestion" for virtually every aspect of a student's existence, so there was generally little question as to what "the Teacher wished one to do." I do know that at one point he issued a proclamation that anyone in a relationship should either get married or terminate the relationship. Most people took this seriously and did as they were told. 4. I suppose there was some inclination to "confess" one's "failures in the work." More likely, though, was the tendency to "tattle" on others who had broken rules. There was and is a strict no-smoking rule, with large fines for offenders; students took to sniffing one another for signs of offense, and would turn in suspected smokers. 5. Punishments for breaking rules included fines and even expulsion from the group. Failing to keep monthly dues current barred one from attending meetings and other group events. Rewards were more subtle -- acceptance and praise for successfully being able to act the part of the "good student." 6. Individualism was all but banned outright. Students were told what music, art, clothing, etc. they should like. Non-compliance resulted in being shunned as someone with a "negative attitude" toward the teaching. To enjoy music etc. that was not sanctioned by the "Teacher" was seen as a personal defect and weakness to be ashamed of. There is also a very insular language peculiar to the group, where catch-phrases quickly take the place of real thought. 7. See above. 8. Questioning the teacher's insights, commands, requests etc. was strictly forbidden, though the means for enforcing this were more covert and had to do with engendering shame, fear and guilt.

Information
Control
1. Use of deception
  a. Deliberately holding back information
  b. Distorting information to make it acceptable
  c. Outright lying

2. Access to non-cult sources of information minimized or discouraged
  a. Books, articles, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio
  b. Critical information
  c. Former members
  d. Keep members so busy they don’t have time to think

3. Compartmentalization of information; Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
  a. Information is not freely accessible
  b. Information varies at different levels and missions within pyramid
  c. Leadership decides who “needs to know” what

4. Spying on other members is encouraged
  a. Pairing up with “buddy” system to monitor and control
  b. Reporting deviant thoughts, feelings, and actions to leadership

5. Extensive use of cult generated information and propaganda
  a. Newsletters, magazines, journals, audio tapes, videotapes, etc.
  b. Misquotations, statements taken out of context from non-cult sources

6. Unethical use of confession
  a. Information about “sins” used to abolish identity boundaries
  b. Past “sins” used to manipulate and control; no forgiveness or absolution

Information: 1. Any negative talk about the "teacher" was regarded as gossip, against which there were strict rules. A search of the web regarding lawsuits against Robert Burton will reveal the extent of his abuses of power, yet that information rarely if ever reached the students. The "Teacher's" indiscretions were always interpreted in the most positive light possible, as in, "everything he does is for the good of our spiritual evolution." 2. There was a time when reading newspapers and watching TV were forbidden, though now that is not the case, to my knowledge. Any information critical of the "Teacher" was quickly and effectively suppressed. There were and are strict rules forbidding contact with former members. 3. Us vs. them is a huge component of the Fellowship. Those not in the group are called, derogatorily, "life people," and are considered "sleeping machines" and "food for the moon." Burton has predicted a coming Armageddon, in which only Fellowship members will survive, and will be solely responsible for carrying on with civilization. The rest of "life" will be "expunged" according to Burton. 4. There is some of this, see above. 5. When I was a member (1981-89), there were monthly journals that were very substantially edited and "improved" transcripts of meetings. Occasional communiques with Burton's thoughts would be issued. He has since written a book titled "Self-Remembering." Certain books somewhat critical of the 4th Way in general, such as Webb's "Harmonious Circle," were discouraged. 6. The system of thought behind this group is quite complex, and tends to engender the tendency to do this to oneself.

Thought
Control
1. Need to internalize the group's doctrine as "Truth"
  a. Map = Reality
  b. Black and White thinking
  c. Good vs. evil
  d. Us vs. them (inside vs. outside)

2. Adopt "loaded" language (characterized by "thought-terminating clichés"). Words are the tools we use to think with. These "special" words constrict rather than expand understanding. They function to reduce complexities of experience into trite, platitudinous "buzz words".

3. Only "good" and "proper" thoughts are encouraged.

4. Thought-stopping techniques (to shut down "reality testing" by stopping "negative" thoughts and allowing only "good" thoughts); rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism.
  a. Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking
  b. Chanting
  c. Meditating
  d. Praying
  e. Speaking in "tongues"
  f. Singing or humming

5. No critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate

6. No alternative belief systems viewed as legitimate, good, or useful

Thought: 1-6: All of these occur, constantly and intensely, with the exception of chanting, praying, speaking in tongues, and singing/humming.

Emotional
Control
1. Manipulate and narrow the range of a person's feelings.

2. Make the person feel like if there are ever any problems it is always their fault, never the leader's or the group's.

3. Feeling-stopping. Like thought-stopping, this is the automatic suppression or blocking of feelings that are not acceptable by the cult identity- such as feeling "homesick" or feeling "depressed" or feeling "resentful".

4. Excessive use of guilt
  a. Identity guilt
    1. Who you are (not living up to your potential)
    2. Your family
    3. Your past
    4. Your affiliations
    5. Your thoughts, feelings, actions
    6. Social guilt
    7. Historical guilt

5. Excessive use of fear
  a. Fear of thinking independently
  b. Fear of the "outside" world
  c. Fear of enemies
  d. Fear of losing one's "salvation"
  e. Fear of leaving the group or being shunned by group
  f. Fear of disapproval

6. Extremes of emotional highs and lows.

7. Ritual and often public confession of "sins".

8. Phobia indoctrination: programming of irrational fears of ever leaving the group or even questioning the leader's authority. The person under mind control cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group.
  a. No happiness or fulfillment "outside"of the group
  b. Terrible consequences will take place if you leave: "hell"; "demon possession"; "incurable diseases"; "accidents"; "suicide"; "insanity"; "10,000 reincarnations"; etc.
  c. Shunning of leave takers. Fear of being rejected by friends, peers, and family.
  d. Never a legitimate reason to leave. From the group's perspective, people who leave are: "weak"; "undisciplined"; "unspiritual"; "worldly"; "brainwashed by family, counselors"; seduced by money, sex, rock and roll.

Emotional: 1-7: Yes to all these, in a very big way. Burton claims that those who leave his organization lose all chance of spiritual evolution. I quote: "When a student leaves, all the light that was available to them disappears down a black hole and is forever lost." Staying in the organization, on the other hand, guarantees eternal life. Other Sources of Information: The Fellowship has vigorously suppressed, through the use of lawsuits, information critical of them. They successfully squelched the airing of, I believe, a "20/20" segment that featured a former student speaking out against the organization. However, there are some legal documents and newspaper articles that can be found on the web that will give you an idea of what really goes on behind its very well-groomed facade.

Group
Websites

Welcome to the Fellowship of Friends!

Critical
Websites

Statement from a former member of Fellowship of Friends 

 
 
Other
Resources
(articles, videos, information)

George Gurdjieff; Ouspensky; Fellowship of Friends