Robert C. Christian wasn’t his real name. The man who walked into the Elberton Granite Finishing Company in rural Georgia in 1979 with a bizarre construction job admitted he was hiding his real identity, and the identities of whoever he was working with—an unseen organization he referred to solely as “a small group of loyal Americans,” according to the Elbert County Chamber of Commerce. Christian was looking to build a monument in the mold of Stonehenge, with four granite slabs standing almost 20 feet tall arranged around a smaller central slab, with a capstone connecting them all. Together the six hunks of granite would weigh over 100 tons. Like Stonehenge, the slabs would be arranged in a precise order keyed to astronomy, with a meaning unknown to all but Christian and his colleagues. Unlike Stonehenge, words would be carved into the sides of this monument, a list of 10 edicts repeated in eight different languages. At once apocalyptic and utopian, with an ethos that could’ve come straight from Star Trek, the Guidestones’ message seemed to yearn for a better future—or, as some apparently believe, stood as Satanic instructions on how to undermine God and subjugate humanity.
Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
Guide reproduction wisely—improving fitness and diversity.
Unite humanity with a living new language.
Rule passion—faith—tradition—and all things with tempered reason.
Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
Balance personal rights with social duties.
Prize truth—beauty—love—seeking harmony with the infinite.
Be not a cancer on the Earth—Leave room for nature—Leave room for nature.
Nobody is exactly sure why the Georgia Guidestones were built, or why they were built in a small town over 100 miles northeast of Atlanta. Only one person, Elberton banker Wyatt Martin, knew Christian’s real name; Martin died in December, 2021, apparently without revealing who Christian really was. Christian’s subterfuge has fueled a decades-old mystery and a conspiracy theory that just won’t die, one that was injected into Georgia’s current governors’ race by a fringe candidate earlier this year, and which presumably lead to an early morning bombing that precipitated this afternoon’s destruction of the Guidestones. The Georgia Guidestones have been a source of conjecture and controversy for over 40 years, and we’re no closer to understanding their true origins today than we were when they were built in 1980. And instead of trying to understand them, fearful zealots who believe they were built by the New World Order, or the Freemasons, or the Rosicrucians, and stand as a monument to Lucifer, have ultimately destroyed them.
When you first hear about the Georgia Guidestones, they sound amazing. When you first see them, you realize they’re just some rocks in a field.
A recent trip to the Guidestones, well before today’s vandalism, revealed how thoroughly ridiculous everything about the monument is. Its supposed “Satanic” commandments are generic New Age chatter about living together in peace with nature. It’s in one of the worst imaginable locations to spread any kind of message, sitting in an otherwise vacant lot in a town of barely 4000 people, a two hour drive from the nearest city. Whoever built it probably were passionate believers in whatever they were trying to say—most people wouldn’t travel to nowhere to spend a lot of money if they weren’t serious about it—but if it came out the whole thing was built by a rich guy who lost a bet, or was some kind of proto-viral marketing for a company that went belly-up before the campaign could really kick in, it wouldn’t be that surprising. (Or if, as many believe, it was built by Elberton itself to drive tourism to the town.)
Most of the legend and controversy comes down to one line. If the first bit of advice wasn’t about keeping the world’s population under 500,000,000—when the Guidestones were erected, there were already 4.5 billion people on Earth—it’s hard to see a major conspiracy theory developing around this weird granite circle. The astronomical element and the evocation of Stonehenge’s pre-Christian nature would obviously concern a certain element of conservative Christianity, but would their fears rush to a conspiracy of global elites trying to reduce the world’s population by almost 90% without that first line? And without that conspiracy, would the panic and anger over this ridiculous collection of rocks turn into actual violence, like the Guidestones saw this morning? It’s hard to see that happening, but then it was hard to predict so much of what our country has turned into over the last two decades—a nation twisted by self-righteous fanatics, spurred on by the blatant misinformation of an exploitative class of elites desperate to expand their own power and wealth, no matter who has to suffer as a consequence. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that, despite almost 30 years of complaints, the first serious vandalism of the Guidestones didn’t happen until 2009—the same year the Tea Party Movement signaled the coming out party of the unhinged, far-right fringe that talk radio and conservative media had been cultivating since the end of the Fairness Doctrine.
It’s also important to remember that there was an overpopulation panic in the 1970s. The Population Bomb, a controversial best-seller in 1968, warned readers that widespread famine would quickly make the world unlivable if its population kept growing at then-current rates. Christian reportedly mentioned that his group of “loyal Americans” had been planning the Guidestones for over 20 years; given the 20th century’s nuclear paranoia, and the overpopulation concerns of the late ‘60s and ‘70s, the seemingly apocalyptic nature of the Guidestones becomes more understandable. That list of ideas about how to protect the world or rebuild it after disaster doesn’t have to be the work of some nefarious secret society; it could be the thoughts of anybody who worried too much about getting nuked or overpopulating the planet in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
No matter who paid to have them built or why, the Georgia Guidestones were ultimately not that different from any other roadside tourist attraction. Two hours west of the Guidestones you can find Marietta’s famous Big Chicken, a 56-foot-tall fast food restaurant in the shape of a chicken’s head, with moving eyes and beak. Four hours east of Elberton sits South of the Border, a rundown (and absurdly racist) compound of tacky gift shops, gross restaurants, and offensive Mexican stereotypes, made famous by billboards that stretch for hundreds of miles in every direction. All three are essentially the same: goofy, eye-catching kitsch that wants you to stop and take a closer look. The only thing that sets the Guidestones apart is they didn’t ask for any money. It’s farcical that these stones have inspired such a fearful, outraged response. The only people nuttier than whoever built the Georgia Guidestones are the people who wanted to destroy them.
Today’s bombing reduced one slab to rubble, and caused some damage to the capstone. Late this afternoon the rest of the Guidestones were torn down. If you never saw them in person, don’t fret; you probably would’ve lost interest within 20 minutes or so. If you have been before, hopefully you got some good photos. If anything, the bombing just enhances the air of mystery that surrounds the Guidestones, and ensures they’ll remain a source of fascination for years to come—even if they no longer exist.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.