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Proper proximality in non-positive curvature

abstract: Proper proximality of a countable group is a notion that was introduced by Boutonnet, Ioana and Peterson as a tool to study rigidity properties of certain von Neumann algebras associated to groups or ergodic group actions. In the present paper, we establish the proper proximality of many groups acting on nonpositively curved spaces. First, these include many countable groups $G$ acting properly nonelementarily by isometries on a proper ${\rm CAT}(0)$ space $X$. More precisely, proper proximality holds in the presence of rank one isometries or when $X$ is a locally thick affine building with a minimal $G$-action. As a consequence of Rank Rigidity, we derive the proper proximality of all countable nonelementary ${\rm CAT}(0)$ cubical groups, and of all countable groups acting properly cocompactly nonelementarily by isometries on either a Hadamard manifold with no Euclidean factor, or on a $2$-dimensional piecewise Euclidean ${\rm CAT}(0)$ simplicial complex. Second, we establish the proper proximality of many hierarchically hyperbolic groups. These include the mapping class groups of connected orientable finite-type boundaryless surfaces (apart from a few low-complexity cases), thus answering a question raised by Boutonnet, Ioana, and Peterson. We also prove the proper proximality of all subgroups acting nonelementarily on the curve graph. In view of work of Boutonnet, Ioana and Peterson, our results have applications to structural and rigidity results for von Neumann algebras associated to all the above groups and their ergodic actions.

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