Continuing the Discussion

WACO--The Inside Story

Aired October 17, 1995

Letter from David Fanning

Educator's Primer


Classroom Activities

Letter from David Fanning,

FRONTLINE Executive Producer

On April 19, 1993, the fifty-one day standoff between the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, and U.S. government law enforcement agencies ended in a tragic fire, leaving David Koresh and eighty of his followers dead. That final confrontation between the FBI and the Branch Davidians has sparked debate over the government's responsibility to oversee the actions of its agencies and to uphold the rights of its citizens. The clash between the Davidians and the federal government calls to mind James Madison's admonition in The Federalist Papers: "the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government."

For many Americans, the Waco cataclysm remains a piece of unfinished national business, despite a lengthy Justice Department review and congressional hearings this summer.

In its fourteenth season premiere, FRONTLINE seeks to answer the many remaining questions about the standoff in "WACO-The Inside Story," airing Tuesday, October 17, on PBS. The program combs the behind-the-scenes record of events, many of which bear critically on the authority of the government to control the actions of its law enforcement agencies.

This educator's guide represents FRONTLINE's first installment of three guides to be offered during the 1995-1996 school year. Like previous offerings, this guide can be used in conjunction with the FRONTLINE broadcast or as a stand-alone curriculum aide. And like most FRONTLINE programs, "WACO-The Inside Story" can be used for up to one year after its broadcast.

I hope you find the activities within these pages useful and enlightening to your students. Sincerely,
David Fanning
Executive Producer

Educator's Primer

About the Program and this Educational Guide

"WACO--The Inside Story" explores the actions of federal law enforcement agencies-The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) and the FBI-in dealing with a very complex and deadly situation. It also examines the responsibilities of the government to oversee the actions of those agencies when called upon to perform their duties.

All members of federal agencies, including those involved in the Waco incident, are sworn to uphold the Constitution's principles and protect citizens' rights. Citizens, in turn, agree to obey the laws the government establishes to protect their rights. Citizens have an obligation to monitor the government's actions to make sure it keeps its word. This principle was one of the challenges the founders of our government faced when writing the Constitution.

The principle of limited government runs deep in our history from the Magna Carta through the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights. Government, as well as citizens, must obey the law. Incidents, such as the one at Waco, Texas, ask the question: Were the actions of the federal agents ones that would maintain control of the situation and themselves?

This FRONTLINE educational guide explores fundamental questions surrounding the relationship between the federal government and its citizens. It is intended to make students aware of the tensions that can grow between citizens and their government and the difficulty each has in maintaining a democracy like ours.

Waco Timeline of Events


Office of Public Programs,
Education Branch
National Archives
Washington, DC 20408
(202) 501-6729
Produces kit for teachers with related U.S. Constitution documents, $40. Publishes on-line annotated version of the Constitution at

National Institute for Citizen Education in the Law (NICEL)
711 G Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003
(202) 546-6644 x228
Creates curriculum materials for students about law in everyday life and provides referrals to state and local resources

The Constitution Project
2701 N.W. Vaughn St., Suite 475
Portland, OR 97210
(503) 224-6722
Creates curriculum materials, provides referrals, and coordinates summer teacher training institute

Origins of American Constitutionalism by Donald S. Lutz, L.S.U. Press, 1988, offering an historical perspective to the U.S. Constitution

Junior Statesmen Foundation
60 East Third Avenue, Suite 320
San Mateo, CA 94401
(415) 347-1600
Assists high school students in forming clubs to discuss current issues. Sponsors regional student conventions

Classroom Activities

Introduction "WACO-The Inside Story" is a one-hour television program which can be used as a compelling tool to facilitate student discussion about the relationship between citizens and their government. You can tape the program and use it for one year. You can show the program in its entirety, but it is recommended that it be shown in segments in the first activity to allow students time to process and to analyze the information.

Whether you use these activities or others, keep in mind some basic guidelines when discussing controversial issues:

Activity 1: What Went Wrong at Waco?

Activity II: Take a Stand

Follow-up Activities

Organize a press conference of three different groups of 2-3 students: representatives from the FBI; representatives for Janet Reno at the Department of Justice; and representatives of surviving Branch Davidians. While these students research the incident in news periodicals and other sources suggested in this guide, brainstorm with the rest of the class questions for each group. Meet with each of the "representative" groups before the press conference to ensure that each group is adequately prepared for questions they might be asked. Have all students come together for a press conference.

Videocassettes of "WACO-The Inside Story"
and other FRONTLINE programs can be purchased
for $59.95 from

To order, call toll-free: 800-344-3337
or fax: 703-739-5269 or write:
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Funding for this educational guide is provided by PBS and PBS Video. It was created by educational consultant Simone Bloom Nathan, Ed.M., writer Greg Timmons of the Constitution Project, Jim Bracciale, and Eileen Warren with input from the Outreach Advisory Board: high school social studies teachers Lawrence Verria and Barbara Wood, KLVX Director of Distance Learning Lee Solanche, and New England School of Law Professor George Dargo. The designer is Dennis O'Reilly. Photography by: front cover-Julie Nestingen, top, left; Peter Turnley/Blackstar, center; Stephanie Berger, Stephanie Berger and John Gaga/FPG International, Alan Levenson/LGI, David Joel, right, top to bottom. Back cover-Greg Smith/SABA. © 1995 WGBH Educational Foundation.

Teachers may photocopy this material for educational purposes. All other rights reserved.

(c) 1995 WGBH Educational Foundation

New Content Copyright © 1998 PBS and WGBH/FRONTLINE