Members of Hamas(l), New York City Aerial(c), Migrants lined up(r)

Anas-Mohammed/Shutterstock Thiago Leite/Shutterstock Ruben2533/Shutterstock (Licensed)

Conspiracy theorists are now terrified of going to ‘major cities’—believe Hamas ‘sleeper cells’ infiltrated U.S. alongside migrants

The claim says something big will happen within the next year.


David Covucci


Mike Rothschild


Posted on Oct 11, 2023

The renewed conflict between Israel and Hamas caused a deluge of false claims and conspiracy theories on social media, most especially on X. 

While always a constant source of unevidenced posts in its previous life as Twitter, Elon Musk’s X is now a virtually unmoderated and unchecked minefield of fake images, “breaking news,” and graphic execution videos. 

One of the most virulent and fast-moving new conspiracy theories says that within the next “12 to 14 months,” Hamas terror cells will launch “massive terrorist attacks” in major U.S. cities, having infiltrated the country through the open border between the U.S. and Mexico.

Spread by influencers looking for ad revenue and to attack President Joe Biden, the rumor went viral almost immediately. Verified accounts with six-figure followings quickly shared and embellished it with their own details. Like the most durable conspiracy theories, it’s specific enough to have credibility, vague enough that it’s difficult to debunk in detail, and appeals not to logic and reason, but fear and uncertainty.

Because the warnings are so lacking in detail, there’s little Americans can do to stop the attacks or avoid being targeted, other than “stay away” from major cities for the next year.

There is no credible evidence that Hamas, a fairly small organization which operates almost exclusively in Gaza, has any presence in the United States. This would include deep cover “sleeper cells” of terrorists waiting to be “activated,” which thus far exist only in the fevered imagination of conspiracy theorists. 

Some of these theories gave the sleeper cell group a name, Unit 910—but this is a clandestine intelligence operation belonging to an entirely different group, the Lebanese militant party Hezbollah.

The plot makes little logical sense. It would require large groups of terrorists to cross the world, enter or be smuggled into Central America, cross into the United States, formulate complex plans for attacks, and carry them out after waiting for a year without getting caught—all while those in charge of it plotted an attack on Israel then fended off a massive, unprecedented invasion of their homeland.  

Despite the lack of evidence for the sleeper cell theory, Republicans in Congress and right-wing media influencers continue to say hordes of terrorists entered into Texas and Arizona and are waiting for orders.

Former President Donald Trump intimated as much on Truth Social, writing that “The same people that raided Israel are pouring into our once beautiful USA, through our TOTALLY OPEN SOUTHERN BORDER, at Record Numbers.”

The sleeper cell claim started almost immediately after news of the Hamas attack broke. The next day, the rumor of Hamas operating in America became more focused and detailed—leading to its next iteration, not only that attacks were coming, but they would be unleashed before the 2024 election in big cities to help Joe Biden seize absolute power.

The “12-14 months” rumor appears to have started for good with an Oct. 8 post by verified influencer Carmine Sabia

“Phone call I just got from someone who works with a diplomat frightened me and not many things frighten me. I would not be in a big city for the next 12 months.” 

In his next post, Sabia claimed “Hamas has terror cells in the United States.”

A few hours after Sabia’s post—which racked up nearly 5 million views as of Oct. 10—the conspiracy theorist and self-proclaimed “proud Islamophobe” influencer Laura Loomer warned her 613,000 followers to “stay out of major cities. There’s going to be massive terrorist attacks in big cities over these next 14 months. We have been infiltrated. Our borders are open & the push to create a global Islamic caliphate has been activated. You don’t want to be in major cities. Stay away.”

Just minutes later, Loomer’s claim was repeated by dubious “breaking news” aggregator “Leading Report” which posted “BREAKING: Hamas allegedly has terror cells in the United States after entering the country via the southern border, creating a fear of terrorist attacks in big cities over the next 14 months.” 

The posts by Loomer and Leading Report combined to get more than seven million views.

Despite the lack of proof, other influencers added their own details to the conspiracy, such as the UN paying these “terrorists” with Mexican debit cards, the attacks being coordinated with Biden to disrupt the 2024 election, and that “reputable sources” were backing up the theory. The cities to be attacked were never named, making these reports entirely useless to people who actually live in big cities and presumably can’t just leave.

If the theory of Islamic terror cells hidden in groups of migrants crossing from Mexico sounds familiar, it should.  

Beyond a few details changed, the “Hamas sleeper cell” story is almost identical to a conspiracy theory spread by Trump in 2018, in which the then-president claimed that a large caravan of migrants headed toward the U.S. border in fall 2018 had been infiltrated by “unknown Middle Eastern” terrorists. Trump’s claim, which likely originated in a quickly debunked Fox News story, was so free of evidence that even he had to admit that he had no proof, only that it “could be true.” 

All of this is recycled from past theories. The idea of Islamic terrorists crossing the southern border started as far back as 2005 with southern politicians claiming that locals were finding Islamic prayer rugs and Korans among trash left behind by migrants. And just like now, it worked to spread fear and distrust then.

Given the current controversy over migrant groups being sent to Democratic-leaning cities, it’s not a surprise that the moral panic over the danger of immigration would merge with the never-ending fear of sleeper cells terrorists from the Middle East to form a durable and viral conspiracy theory of its own.

It works perfectly, playing on right-wing hysteria over migrants overrunning America, sanctuary cities unable to deport them, Biden allowing or causing America to descend into violent chaos, and the constant fear of Islamic terrorism. And proponents can point to real, though decontextualized, examples such as the Hamas attack and the surge at the border and remix them together.

As with most durable conspiracy theories, there are elements of truth amid the layers of falsehood.

This is not entirely Elon Musk’s fault, nor is it new that these kinds of rumors are spread by influencers with six-figure followings.

But with the 2024 election coming up and a massive war breaking out, X is deeply vulnerable to manipulation, rumors, and conspiracy theories. 

Paid verification and lax moderation make it almost impossible to discern rumor from fact, particularly since rumors are being spread by self-proclaimed “breaking news” and “open source intelligence” accounts touted as accurate by Musk himself. 

But a Republican base gripped by fear over migrants, violence in big cities, and terrorism are poised to believe it.

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*First Published: Oct 11, 2023, 9:29 am CDT