(CNN)The House GOP’s campaign arm announced Tuesday that an Arizona Republican candidate who praised the Proud Boys in a September speech has advanced to the next level of its campaign support process.
Walt Blackman, an Arizona state representative running for Congress in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, said having the far-right extremist group attend one of his rallies was one of the proudest moments of his life.
“I believe those are the Proud Boys back there,” Blackman said in late September. “Let me tell you something about the Proud Boys. The Proud Boys came to one of my events and that was one of the proudest moments of my life. Not because of what the media portrayed them to be, but the patriots they showed young people: the example on how to be an American.”
Blackman made the comments in support of the Proud Boys at a rally in Phoenix last month organized by Look Ahead America, which held a similar rally in Washington, DC, to support defendants charged in the January 6 insurrection. Notably, a few dozen people with ties to the Proud Boys have been charged in the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, according to CNN’s analysis of court documents.
In a press release and on social media Tuesday, Blackman announced that the National Republican Congressional Committee had included him in their Young Guns program, personally thanking House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Blackman was added to the Young Guns website as an “on the radar” candidate — the second level of the Young Guns program — along with a crop of other candidates, including another running in the same district. Candidates running in competitive seats have to meet certain requirements for campaign organization and fundraising to be eligible for the program and to move to the next level.
“I’d like to thank Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy for recognizing what so many grassroots leaders across Arizona’s 1st Congressional District have already seen in our campaign,” Blackman said in his statement.
In a statement to CNN on Wednesday, Blackman condemned the Proud Boys. “I’m not a career politician. As of three years ago, I was the first Black American elected to the Arizona state legislature. I’m new to this, and at the time of the rally, wasn’t familiar with the totality and breadth of the Proud Boys conduct, which I unequivocally condemn,” he said.
The Young Guns program, operated by the NRCC and led by McCarthy, “identifies candidates across the country who embody the principles of the House Republican Conference and show promise of running a successful campaign,” according to its website. Being added to the watch list is not an endorsement or commitment of financial support from the NRCC, which does not play in open primaries, but it is an indication that the campaign committee thinks the candidate can become a contender in the race.
CNN reached out to the NRCC and McCarthy’s office but did not receive a response.
Blackman, a first-time congressional candidate, was elected as an Arizona state representative in 2018. Prior to that, he founded a workplace training company and served in the US Army for more than two decades, during which he earned a Bronze Star for combat action in Iraq, according to his website and social media.
In 2020, Blackman supported the pernicious “Stop the Steal” movement and the lie that former President Donald Trump won the presidential election nationwide and in Arizona.
CNN’s Marshall Cohen and Hannah Rabinowitz contributed to this story.