An apocalyptic ‘cult’ led by an eccentric misogynist accused of sexual abuse of young men has taken over a division of Google, a whistleblower has claimed.
Kevin Lloyd, 34, claims that he was fired from his job as a video developer at Google last year because he began questioning the influence of the cult.
In August, Lloyd filed a discrimination case in California Superior Court, alleging he was fired for digging into Fellowship of Friends – a group based in the small Californian town of Oregon House, and whose members made up a large percentage of employees in his division.
‘Plaintiff’s preliminary research into Oregon House and the Fellowship of Friends described the Fellowship as a destructive cult, with a pedophilic leader who makes false prophecies about the end of the world,’ the lawsuit claims.
‘Plaintiff became alarmed that Google was involved with and/or financially supporting such an organization.’
Earlier this month, Lloyd wrote a lengthy description of his case on Medium, and spoke to The New York Times – who corroborated many of the lawsuit’s claims through interviews with eight current and former employees of the Google business unit.
Kevin Lloyd, 34, claims he lost his job at Google because he raised concerns about how many people within the Google Developer Studio were affiliated with Fellowship of Friends
Google’s campus in Mountain View is 180 miles from the small town of Oregon House, population 1,250 – yet half of the people Lloyd met were from Oregon House, he said
Lloyd said he began work at Google in 2017, as part of Google Developer Studio (GDS) – the tech giant’s internal production company, making adverts and video content.
He said it slowly dawned on him that many of the people he met at GDS were from the same small Californian town, 180 miles north of Google’s Silicon Valley home, in Mountain View.
The town of Oregon House is home to 1,250 people, and yet Lloyd said he realized that half of the 25 people he met at GDS were from the same town.
Lloyd said he noticed that many of the outside vendors, such as caterers and entertainers at corporate events, were also from Oregon House.
In 2018, Lloyd said, he was speaking to a freelancer who was working with them that day, and was from a town near Oregon House.
Lloyd recalls the freelancer telling him: ‘Oregon House isn’t a town. It’s a cult.’
He began investigating the freelancer’s claim, and said he was shocked by what he found.
‘There are online support groups for former Fellowship of Friends members to help them process the trauma endured during their membership, as well as problems that arise after leaving,’ Lloyd’s lawsuit states.
Fellowship of Friends, which is based in Oregon House, was founded in 1970 by Robert Earl Burton, a former school teacher in the San Francisco Bay area.
‘From its inception the vision of the Fellowship was, and remains, to establish a practical spiritual organization and to make it available to anyone interested in pursuing the spiritual work of awakening,’ they state on their website.
Robert Earl Burton, now believed to be around 83, founded Fellowship of Friends in 1970. He has been accused in multiple lawsuits of sexual abuse
Burton is seen with a European artwork purchased with the organization’s cash. Members must give 10 percent of their earnings to the group
Burton, believed to be now aged in his early 80s, sought to create a center celebrating the fine arts – with opera, ballet, works of art and literature the focus.
He based his organization in Oregon House, and created a winery where his devotees worked, when not studying the arts.
Google even purchased wine, the lawsuit claims, from the Grant Marie Winery, an allegedly cult-affiliated vineyard run by a Fellowship member in Oregon House.
But critics claimed that he had sexually abused new members of his group – in particular young boys.
In 1984 a former member filed a $2.75 million lawsuit claiming that young men who joined the organization ‘had been forcefully and unlawfully sexually seduced by Burton,’ according to documents obtained by The New York Times.
In 1996, another former member accused Burton in a law suit of sexual misconduct with him while he was minor. Both suits were settled out of court.
Some accusers, Lloyd alleged, had been flown to the country under false pretenses and then abused.
Members of Fellowship of Friends are seen with Burton (left, in pale blue suit) holding a meeting
What is Fellowship of Friends?
Founded on January 1, 1970 by San Francisco school teacher Robert Earl Burton, Fellowship of Friends is a non-profit religious organization, headquartered in Oregon House, California.
Burton based his faith system on a philosophy called the Fourth Way, founded by an Armenian philosopher and mystic, George Gurdjieff, who lived from 1866 to 1949.
Burton adopted Gurdjieff’s believe that people are in a hypnotic ‘waking sleep’, and need to work on themselves through studying art, music and literature.
He named his 1,200-acre headquarters Apollo, and his 1,800 followers gave 10 percent of their earnings to the organization – which spent the money on art, fine wine and culture.
Critics have filed lawsuits claiming sexual abuse.
Other critics said that the group was strongly anti-women, and celebrated white European men above all.
In September, investigative journalist Jennings Brown published a six-part podcast produced for Spotify, entitled Revelations.
Brown had spent three years from 2018 digging into the group, and documented allegations of sexual abuse in what he termed a ‘doomsday cult’.
Lloyd said he was aghast that GDS was so strongly linked to the Fellowship, with GDS’s director, Peter Lubbers, described as a longtime member of the group, who joined shortly after he moved to the U.S. from the Netherlands.
Lubbers introduced a video producer named Gabe Pannell to the Fellowship: Pannell was pictured with Burton in 2015, and described as a ‘new student’, The New York Times report.
Lloyd’s lawsuit states: ‘Mr Lubbers gained status and praise relative to the increase of money flowing to the Fellowship through his efforts at Google that put (and kept) other Fellowship members — directly or indirectly — on Google’s payroll.’
Lubbers insisted faith had nothing to do with his hiring.
‘My personal religious beliefs are a deeply held private matter,’ Lubbers told The New York Times.
‘In all my years in tech, they have never played a role in hiring. I have always performed my role by bringing in the right talent for the situation — bringing in the right vendors for the jobs.’
Pannell told the paper that those hired were brought in from ‘a circle of trusted friends and families with extremely qualified backgrounds’.
Lloyd, in his Medium post – which does not name Lubbers or Pannell – said that anxiety about the Fellowship, and its reputation, sparked a panic attack, for which he was admitted to ER.
He said in his court documents that he worried events he produced ‘could somehow be used to funnel money back into the Fellowship of Friends.’
Burton is seen in a 1981 photo at Oregon House. In 1984, a former member filed a $2.75 million lawsuit claiming that young men who joined the organization ‘had been forcefully and unlawfully sexually seduced by Burton,’ according to documents obtained by The New York Times. The suit was settled out of court
Fired in February 2021, he has retained a lawyer who previously represented a woman at Lubbers’ previous company, Kelly Services, and sued in 2008 in a similar case.
Lynn Noyes claimed that Kelly Services had failed to promote her because she was not a member of the Fellowship.
A California court awarded her $6.5 million in damages.
‘Anyone outside of the Fellowship is seen as somehow inferior and at times adversarial,’ Lloyd’s lawsuit says.
‘Those that express serious concerns, criticism or question the group may be eventually perceived as enemies.’
Google told The New York Times that they were barred by law from inquiring about someone’s religious practices during the hiring process.
‘We have longstanding employee and supplier policies in place to prevent discrimination and conflicts of interest, and we take those seriously,’ a Google spokeswoman, Courtenay Mencini, said in a statement.
‘It’s against the law to ask for the religious affiliations of those who work for us or for our suppliers, but we’ll of course thoroughly look into these allegations for any irregularities or improper contracting practices.
‘If we find evidence of policy violations, we will take action.’
Fellowship of Friends was approached for comment.